Using “they” as a non-gender-specific singular pronoun

It’s OK to use “they” as a singular pronoun saith the AP and others.

This trend has caused the same sort of reaction among some of my journalist buddies that those godawful wooden tongue depressors cause me every time a medical professional crams one down my throat to look at my tonsils.

Nausea, gagging and a full-body case of the willies. I can’t even eat popsicles on a wooden stick, either. Enough about my neuroses.

Think of it as an upgrade from saying “his or hers” and “he or she,” when you don’t know the specific gender of the person who robbed the convenience store, gave the anonymous big tip to the harried waiter or waitress, or whose qualifications are being described on a job-search site.

They/their/them have for centuries served as gender-neutral pronouns  – The Oxford English Dictionary’s first reference dates to 1375. Shakespeare did it, and Shakespeare was awesome.

Don’t let using second-person  objective-case pronouns in the singular nominative get you all in a lather. This  goes in and out of style, like bell-bottom jeans. Well, with any luck luck, bell-bottoms won’t come back, but there’s probably a kid in Portland wearing a pair right now and all the others are looking on, going “Hmmmmmm, Yeah.”

And you don’t have to do it every single time, just when alternative wording is awkward or wordy. Clarity is always priority No. 1, so don’t look at it as an order. It’s a tool to make life easier for your readers.

And as AP advises, if you are doing a story about a person who identifies as neither male nor female and ask not to be referred to as he/she/him/her, use the person’s name instead of the pronoun, or reword the sentence. When they/their/them is required, explain that the person prefers a gender-neutral pronoun.

Just relax, write it and let Jordan roll.

 

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