Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Singular "They"

Bill Walsh, Keeper of the Style Book at the Washington Post explains why he has dropped the hyphen in "Walmart" and in "email," and why "mic" is now a word, pronounced with a long "i" contrary to all good sense.  His article is quite interesting and if you are a language maven, a must-read.  See it here.

I am quite comfortable with dropping the hyphen in Walmart and in email.  If fact, l had done so in my writing some time back.  I dislike reaching up for the hyphen anyway, and I always have to pause to look.

Eventually, though, Mr. Walsh* gets to the issue of the singular "they."  He has finally chosen to adopt this ragged and smelly urchin, though it seems somewhat against his own better judgment.  I draw the line here.  I shall continue to use the generic "he" in my speech and in my writing.  I'm eighty-one.  Laugh if you will, whippersnapper, but someone has to maintain a degree of respect for those English teachers who have gone on before.  Let it be me.

If anyone is annoyed with the archaic usage, I hope he will grit his teeth and move on, which is what I shall do in future when I encounter the singular "they."  If on the other hand there is one who is offended, or worse outraged by my choice, to him I say, "Get a life."

*Here Mr. Walsh, following his own style book, would have written "Walsh," dropping the honorific.  Excuse the respect, Sir.


Vee said...

I agree with you about gender words. There are many who need to "get a life."

Jim Grey said...

I am delighted, and should not be surprised, that you follow Bill Walsh. Given that James J. Kilpatrick and William Safire aren't with us anymore, somebody's got to pick up the mantle of writing about language and writing.

I finally relented this year and dropped the hyphen from email. I dropped it from Walmart the minute the new hyphen-less signs went up -- if Walmart wants to refer to itself that way, who am I to insist otherwise?

And this from a fellow who can nail the hyphen key with his right pinky without even looking.

A reality I live is that sometimes, younger (read: younger than me) women in the workplace take minor offense when I use he to mean men and women. It doesn't happen often, but it happens often enough that I've adopted they, even though it sounds as right and natural to me as "he be going to the store." It is for the same reason that I'm currently working to stop staying "guys" to mean "people." On the one hand, I want people to just get over themselves. On the other, I must yet make my way through corporate America, and if there's anything I want my colleagues to get hung up on regarding me, this is not it.

Secondary Roads said...

Consistent style is good for publications. Makes it easier on the reader. In personal use, style needs only be consistent. I used to have a style manual at hand and a notebook on my desk with style notes for our organization's publications and correspondence.

Grace said...

I think I'm pretty much okay with the singular they. But I am still fighting being addressed as Ms. I am not a manuscript! Keeping track of who wants to be addressed how is giving me a huge headache, we now have Mx. to contend with. I don't really care what gender, if any, a person identifies as but how am I supposed to know if you are a Mx or a Mr. or a Ms? Oy - my head hurts!

Mic and mike just make me laugh - mic is pronounced mike but when I see mic my inner voice says mick - my head hurts even more.

Among the common folk in Britain just last names are used and that seems a good solution (I dislike people I don't know calling me by my first name) but when I lived in a British-centric country I was called Sinclair because in British English St. is pronounced Sin (St. John is Sin Jin) - and now my head hurts so much I have to go lie down.

vanilla said...

Vee, perhaps it is just a case of the failure of an old dog to learn a new trick. I will give the people the "right" to their usage but they should not waste their energy being "outraged" with mine.

Jim, I fully understand the necessity of avoiding usage to which some might take offense in the workplace. I have never accepted "guys" as a generic term for "people" though I have heard it so used, especially by women! Imagine, then, that the same woman who refers to her staff as "guys" would take offense at my use of a generic "he" in my writing. But so it is. Don't you really like my new "live and let live" approach?

Yes, I miss Safire and Kilpatrick. Good to have someone standing in the gap.

Chuck, does consistency make it "easier on the reader" or is the purpose to achieve a flow that will not trigger the reader's hangups, thus diverting his attention from the message? See what I did there? *grin*

Grace, I had noticed that someone had thrown "Mx." into the mix. Does not thrill me. I did grudgingly accept "Ms." long ago in deference to those who want it. Always think "manuscript" when I write it, though. My inner voice does the same thing to "mic" that yours does.

Now to the main attraction. I have for some time been thinking of asking you what pronunciation you prefer, Saint Clair or Sinclair, and here you have answered the question for me!

Rest well; wake up without that headache.

Grace said...

While indeed my husbands family are more sinners than saints they do prefer to be called Saint. And then there would be the spelling problem - it's tough enough that in this digital world we can't have a 2 word last name that includes a period. I thought I had problems with my maiden name. (Am I allowed touse that term -maiden name?)

vanilla said...

Grace, you may certainly use the term in my domain. Any right thinking person would say so.

No period? Really? (As everyone says these days.) Do you run the words together? StClair? Or are you allowed only one capital letter per name? I know that when JoAnn enters her name it comes out "Joann" which she dislikes. Oh, my; I have life so easy.

Grace said...

Sometimes StClair and sometimes Stclair - sometimes there is a space - sometimes the particular program makes the choice regardless of what we enter. Mostly I am told I don't have a valid last name.

vanilla said...

Grace, wonder how Joe Bfstplk would fare in this digital world.