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

True Random

Welcome one and all to another thought-journey. It’s been a relatively long time, so let’s do this right. We’ll start, as I tend to, with a story.

My roommate and I were walking home from a friend’s apartment. It was 2:30 in the morning, but bright from the street lights so that not a star in the sky could be seen. We were crossing a relatively empty road, no cars, and only a few other late-night travellers.

One of them, walking alone up the street towards the Sylvan dorm system, was singing. He was singing loudly, and in spanish.

I remarked that it was surprising; my roommate disagreed. It appeared to Steve that if a body was already walking up the street alone at 2:30 AM, it was no longer all that surprising for him to be singing at the top of her lungs in Spanish.

I took up the position that it is uncommon for a person to be walking at 2:30 AM, and it is even less common for a person to sing at the top of their lungs in Spanish, therefore it was much more suprising for it to happen at the same time.

This was not the key to our disagreement however; we came upon it next.

In order to explain my argument, I assigned somewhat arbitrary probabilities to each of the events. There might be a 30% probability that a person might find themselves walking alone at 2:30AM. It is uncommon, yes, but not unheard of. However, it is far more uncommon, say, 10% probability, to run into a person in this country singing at the top of their lungs in spanish. Now, if you combine the two probabilities, you have the probability of singing multiplied by the probability of walking at 2:30AM, which brings your probability down to just 3%, which is a startling occurence, because 97% of the time this will not happen.

All of this doesn’t matter. Steve’s response to this explanation was that however logical, he didn’t like the idea of assigning numbers to people.

This is a fairly computer science-wide concept, that probabilities can account for random, and that models can accurately predict what will happen given a scenario and a sufficiently detailed set of training data.

But it does not account for the possibility that a human could be an entirely non-deterministic machine, that there may be such a thing as a Soul, or True Random, that the universe itself does not boil down into one long and elegant math equation which can accurately predict the action of all matter an energy at any point in space and time.

I am actually of the opinion that a human can have a soul, be non-deterministic, and still fit into a probabalistic model. That is not to say that I necessarily believe in the soul, but I believe that the most anyone can ever come to is an estimation of what one will do given circumstances and previous data.

The difference here is almost certainly a matter of semantics, coming to light only because of my background as a Computer Science major versus his as a Philosophy minor. But while it’s subtle, our views allow us an entirely different terminology to express what we think is human at all. Mine is guided by math; by models, bayesian networks, and guesswork, while his is guided by philosophy; by Plato, Aristotle, John Locke, and guesswork.

We’re both at once freed and limited by our fields.

I wonder if this is the Newspeak Effect; George Orwell’s theory that if we lack the words to think of a thing, we won’t think it. Or perhaps it’s sort of a Newspeak Effect in reverse; if we have too many of the words to think of a thing in some specific way, we cannot help but think of it in (more or less) that way.

Effectively… I don’t know.

It would appear they *can* stop the signal after all.

Fox/Universal is placing a little pressure [Slashdot.org] on the browncoats’ marketing of Firefly-inspired products.

There’s a lot of metered anger from the browncoats. I say metered because on every site linked, there seemed to be a few comments that say, “I don’t necessarily think Universal Studios is bad,” or, “They’re well within their right,” or even, “They’re a corporation, doing what corporations do.”

Browncoats, this is not something you should feel obligated to not be upset over. They encouraged your marketing. They wanted you to make Firefly important. You did; you are. Just because Universal Studios is within legal rights to send these Cease and Decist letters doesn’t make it ok.

Also, their right to do so is questionable. If you invite someone into your home, you cannot then attack them for trespassing; similarly if Universal Studios provided some incentives to try to organize people, they should not be able to take legal action against you for doing so.

It does make sense that they are simply trying to limit the number of unauthorized products out there, perhaps in order to increase their own merchandising profits. Again though, just because it makes sense from a monetary standpoint, doesn’t mean you don’t have perfect right to be angry.

In my oppinion they should buy your best designs, and make them official.