Monday, July 25, 2016

“The Ultimate 21st Century Word”

This makes me grit my teeth AND rejoice at the same time.  Mostly, I think I’m fascinated that our language evolves so observably.


by Fiona Macdonald from BBC

The voice shouted from the crowd, in the manner of a rabble-rousing protestor on a march. But this was no banner-waving activist, and the crowd in this instance was made up of members of the 127-year-old American Dialect Society. “We need to accept ‘they’, and we need to do it now,” came the linguist’s cry, and at that moment an otherwise apolitical event took on an unexpected edge.

The Society was meeting in Washington DC to decide on its Word of the Year for 2015. Of all the possible candidates – which included ‘ghost’, ‘ammosexual’ and ‘Thanks, Obama’ – its final choice was an apparently straightforward pronoun. On the face of it, ‘they’ is hardly trailblazing. But what is controversial is the acceptance of a new way of using it. The Society’s website explains that “’They’ was recognised by the society for its emerging use as a pronoun to refer to a known person, often as a conscious choice by a person rejecting the traditional gender binary of ‘he’ and ‘she’.”

Singular appeal

She points to one example that indicates we could embrace ‘they’ as a singular pronoun. “There is a parallel in the history of English. We used to have ‘you’ contrasting with ‘thee’ and ‘thou’, and now we happily use ‘you’. We say ‘you go to the store’, not ‘you goes to the store’ – even if addressing a single individual, we still use the plural verb form,” she says. “People don’t seem to be upset about that – why can’t we do the same with ‘they’? Just let it expand to do this job.”

In 2015, The Washington Post adopted the singular ‘they’ in its style guide, with copy editor Bill Walsh describing it as “the only sensible solution to English’s lack of a gender-neutral third-person singular personal pronoun”. This kind of action is .”

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