Wick Communications

They is wrong

In Writing on 30 Mar 2017 at 12:42 pm

Because nothing is sacred and there are no longer any rules whatsoever, the Associated Press has announced that the new stylebook will allow use of the word they in singular constructions. There is no word yet on whether the AP also plans to give up vegetables, spit into the wind and sleep through church services.

Can you tell this one peeves me?

The AP says it (they?) is mostly bowing to societal pressure. You know, like the grammatical equivalent of jumping off the bridge just because everyone is doing it. (Sorry, but I’m steamed.) In other words, people say things like, Somebody left their umbrella in the office,” and “A journalist should not be compelled to reveal their sources.” Well, in 2017, I guess that just makes it right. So go on and do it yourself. Or yourselves. Or whatever.

Actually, my own histrionics aside, the advice is a bit more circumspect. The new stylebook addresses the issue like this:

They, them, their In most cases, a plural pronoun should agree in number with the antecedent: The children love the books their uncle gave them. They/them/their is acceptable in limited cases as a singular and-or gender-neutral pronoun, when alternative wording is overly awkward or clumsy. However, rewording usually is possible and always is preferable. Clarity is a top priority; gender-neutral use of a singular they is unfamiliar to many readers. We do not use other gender-neutral pronouns such as xe or ze. …

I guess I can live with that. In most cases, please continue to write around it. Because you are a writer and the English language is important to you.

There is one very limited use that I will grant, and that is the gender-neutral use. (If you use xe or ze, well, good luck with that.) I think it makes sense in those cases when the subject doesn’t identify as either a he or a she.

I’m mostly kidding about this. I’ll live. It’s just that I prefer to write correctly, when possible, not to conform to whatever others do.



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