English Rant

One. Two. Three. Here we go.

The pronoun is “they”, people. It is a pronoun of indeterminate gender, and quantity. English professors will say that the use of ‘they’ as an gender-neutral singular pronoun is incorrect, because it is a plural term. These professors are wrong.

Historically ‘they’ has been used in literature for this purpose. It can be seen in the works of Chaucer, Shakespeare, Jane Austen, George Bernard Shaw, and J.D. Salinger, to give examples throughout the lifespan of English as we know it. In addition to this, it is a rule in popular usage, which often must define the way we decide on what is correct in a language.

Why make up a gender-indeterminant pronoun when we already have one? If you don’t believe that we can be nonspecific about both number and gender simultaneously, consider the second-person pronoun “you”. Consider that when one speaks of “you”, they use plural verb forms. Even for the singular you. It’s “you are”, not “you is”, or “you am”.

Here is my humble suggestion to those that cannot concieve of a word being unspecific of both gender and number except by context: Die in a fire. A fire of logic. And those who want to needlessly create stupid words like zhe or se or flibbit or whatever to fulfill this purpose: We already have the word. Please shut up.


And who so findeth him out of swich blame
they wol coome up and offre in Goddes name
And I assoile him by th’auctoritee

~Geoffrey Chaucer, Canturbury Tales; “Prologue to the Pardoner’s Tale”, lines 57-59.

There’s not a man I meet but doth salute me
As if I were their well-acquainted friend

~William Shakespeare, The Comedy of Errors, Act IV, Scene iii.

“You wanted me, I know, to say “Yes,” that you might have the pleasure of despising my taste; but I always delight in overthrowing those kind of schemes, and cheating a person of their premeditated contempt. I have therefore made up my mind to tell you that I do not want to dance a reel at all — and now despise me if you dare.”

~Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

Caesar: No, Cleopatra. No man goes to battle to be killed.
Cleopatra: But they do get killed.

~George Bernard Shaw, Caesar and Cleopatra

He’s one of those guys who’s always patting themself on the back.

~J.D. Salinger, Catcher in the Rye


It’s also in the Oxford English Dictionary, and not as a colloquialism:

2. Often used in reference to a singular noun made universal by every, any, no, etc., or applicable to one of either sex (= “he or she”).

~Oxford English Dictionary Online (http://www.oed.com), retrieved at 1:44pm, 12/17/2006

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