The Right to Speak English

There’s a line of Supreme Court cases going back to Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390 (1923), recognizing the right to speak one’s own language rather than a language compelled by the state. The right is grounded in the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

I speak English, and the dialect I use does not include any of the new-fangled pronouns being imagined these days. Now, its seems to me that someone who wants to use newly invented forms of speech has the right to use that language—and that I have a right to mine—and that neither of us has the right to impose our language on the other.

Pronoun Menu

Hogewash! is an English language blog, and I strive to use proper grammar. To that end, the following pronouns are used to refer to individual persons on this blog:

Masculine form: he/him/his
Feminine form: she/her/hers

Single individuals should not use the plural form (they/them/their) or imaginary forms (e.g., xe/xer/xir) unless they suffer from borderline personality disorder, dissociative identity disorder, or a related mental illness.

N.B.: The English language pronouns for a person who sex is unknown are identical to the masculine. Someone speaking about himself or herself may use one/one/one’s in formal communications. The only other gender in English is neuter, and I believe it is disrespectful to refer to a human being as it.

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.