Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: Sexism (4).

Sexism (4). Today: The Singular “they.” Though the masculine singular personal pronoun may survive awhile longer as a generic term, it will probably be ultimately displaced by “they,” which is coming to be used alternatively as singular or plural. This usage is becoming common — e.g.: o “It is assumed that, if someone is put under enough pressure, they will tell the truth, or the truth will emerge despite the teller.” Robin T. Lakoff, Talking Power: The Politics of Language in Our Lives 90 (1990). o “Anyone planning a dissertation on Hollywood’s fling with yuppie demonology will want to include ‘The Temp’ in their calculations.” Janet Maslin, “A Perfect Secretary, Temporarily,” N.Y. Times, 13 Feb. 1993, at 8. o “Everybody from President Vicente Fox to governors and mayors regularly visit their country-folk here, to participate in community festivities and crown Mexican-American beauty queens.” Eduardo Porter, “Mexico Woos Its Citizens Living in U.S.,” Wall Street J., 24 Oct. 2002, at B1. Speakers of American English resist this development more than speakers of British English, in which the indeterminate “they” is already more or less standard. That it sets many literate Americans’ teeth on edge is an unfortunate obstacle to what promises to be the ultimate solution to the problem. For information about the Language-Change Index click here. Next: Words with “man-” and “-man.” ——————– Quotation of the Day: “It is a poverty of the English language that it has no singular pronoun of common gender to represent different genders in the antecedent, or to stand for such words as ‘anybody,’ ‘anyone,’ ‘everybody,’ ‘everyone,’ ‘each,’ ‘either.’ The word ‘they,’ being plural, is not in concord with them.” John F. Genung, Outlines of Rhetoric 80 (1893).
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