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Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Gender neutral language

"Mankind" was once understood as referring to both male and female people, but somewhere in the course of my lifetime, we replaced the term with" humankind."

I've been thinking about gender neutral pronouns and nouns that encompass "humankind".

We have no pronoun that fits the bill when we want to talk about someone whose gender is unknown to us.
  • Did the writer do HIS job in telling the story?
  • Did the doctor complete HER rounds this morning?
  • Does the artist convey HIS/HER message clearly?
  • The student seems puzzled. Does s/he understand the problem presented?

It seems awkward to say "he or she" when referring to a person of unknown gender, but it still seems gramatically  incorrect to use "they" when only one person or being is being talked about.

We have changed how we talk about roles in today's world. For the most part the change is comfortable once one gets used to it.

"Hero" now means anyone--male or female--who does a heroic act. The word "heroine" today conveys a degree of helplessness that doesn't give the impression of taking charge.

Mail carriers has replaces the term "mailman" and fire fighters has replaced the term "fireman".

Waitperson seems to be preferred over waiter or waitress; Flight attendent over stewardess or steward.

Actor now means anyone who acts. The term "actress" is out-of-style.


Maybe I should refer to my novel as HERstoric fiction.

Your comments are always welcome. Comment here or send me an email at

CollinsleeJ@gmail.com

1 comment:

  1. I consciously and actively encourage the use of "they" and "them" even in the singular case.

    Did the writer do their job in telling the story?
    Did the doctor complete their rounds this morning?
    Does the artist convey their message clearly?
    The student seems puzzled. Do they understand the problem presented?

    It has the decided advantage that a lot of people are already using it that way. That last one will get by almost anyone if spoken, and will probably be accepted in writing in all but the most formal settings (or when writing for a strict grammar nazi.)

    And there is a precedent. In English, "you" migrated from being strictly plural to being either singular or plural.

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