I’m So Old …

… that I remember when gender was a property of nouns and pronouns (rather than a made up property of biological organisms) and that there were only four of them used in English: male, female, indefinite, and neuter. When using the English language, a person whose sex was known to be male was referred to as he, and a person whose sex was female was referred to as she. When referring to a person whose sex was unknown, the indefinite form one was used in formal speech and writing, and the masculine he was used informally.

Of course, English is a living language, and we now seem to have some noisy people who no longer are comfortable being addressed by pronouns which reflect their biological reality. However, this does not require coining new words. When speaking or writing formally about such a person, one can be used, and since we already have a perfectly good word for something that is neither male nor female, it should be grammatically correct for informal speech and writing about such a person. However, as of matter of respect for reality, I strongly prefer the use of the old masculine and feminine forms.

Note: The use of the plural form they is always wrong with referring to a single individual.

UPDATE—Stacy McCain deals with this issue from a different perspective here.

6 thoughts on “I’m So Old …

  1. The use of the plural form they is always wrong with referring to a single individual.

    While I entirely agree when you’re referring to a person of known gender, there’s a long-established tradition in the English language of using singular they when talking about some unknown person. It’s more common, historically, to use “he” for a person of unknown gender, but “they” as the pronoun of unknown gender shows up a lot, too, well before feminism was on the scene. E.g., Jane Austen has Elizabeth Bennet saying “… I always delight in overthrowing those kind of schemes, and cheating a person of their premeditated contempt.” (Emphasis mine).

    So I’m comfortable with the singular they when it’s used of an unknown person (whose gender is therefore also unknown), as in Jane Austen’s usage. But using it of a known person (who is clearly either male or female) is indeed just plain wrong.

  2. It’s a very simple tautological exercise.
    Q: “How can you tell if you are cold?”
    A: “Because you have been in the cold before and can compare your current sensation to your prior experience defined as ‘cold'”
    Q: “How can you tell if you feel like a woman?”
    A: “If you are female, then whatever you are feeling is, by definition, what a woman feels. Conversely, if you are male, then whatever you are feeling is, by definition, what a man feels. If you have never been a woman, then you have no frame of reference to compare your current sensation, and have zero evidence to conclude your sensation is even remotely comparable to what a woman feels.”

    Didn’t all the SJW’s just spend decades denouncing anyone who happened to notice the statistical truth of gender stereotypes as evil bigots? They demanded that boys must enjoy playing with dolls and girls must enjoy martial arts. Now all of a sudden they’ve turned the world upside down such that stereotypes no longer flow from viewed tendencies of each gender, instead your gender must now be redefined depending upon which arbitrary stereotype you resemble!

  3. If we absolutely have to have another set, I like something I read years ago in a SF novel (Poul Anderson, I think) for an androgynous species… “heesh” and “himr” for the subject and object, respectively.

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