After declaring the violence epidemic against transgender people a “myth,” journalist and self-described “gay conservative” Chad Felix Greene is now attacking the idea of the use of “they” as a singular pronoun and criticizing the APA for endorsing the usage.
“The APA style guide is widely used in academic writing, and the decision to essentially create a new usage from an established pronoun is absurd,” he writes for The Federalist, a website that veers to the extreme right side of Media Bias Fact Check’s spectrum.
“I am certainly not a ‘they,’ and I shudder to imagine a society that prefers to see me as a generic and inclusive pronoun, rather than a whole and autonomous person,” he adds. (Unsurprisingly, Greene mispronouned the nonbinary singer Sam Smith in his argument.)
But this usage is hardly “new,” as University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign professor of English and linguistics Dennis Baron pointed out in a 2018 Oxford English Dictionary blog post:
“The Oxford English Dictionary traces singular they back to 1375, where it appears in the medieval romance William and the Werewolf. … Since forms may exist in speech long before they’re written down, it’s likely that singular they was common even before the late fourteenth century. That makes an old form even older.”
Related: Chris Cuomo apologizes for joking about pronouns at Democratic debate
Plus, as Baron noted, even people like Greene probably use “they” to mean one person: “People who want to be inclusive, or respectful of other people’s preferences, use singular they. And people who don’t want to be inclusive, or who don’t respect other people’s pronoun choices, use singular they as well. Even people who object to singular they as a grammatical error use it themselves when they’re not looking, a sure sign that anyone who objects to singular they is, if not a fool or an idiot, at least hopelessly out of date.”
Linguist Geoff Nunberg spoke similar truths on NPR’s Fresh Air in 2016 after the American Dialect Society made “they” their word of the year for 2015 and after President Barack Obama used “they” as a singular pronoun in his State of the Union address.
“This use of ‘they’ has been around for a long time,” Nunberg said. “It shows up in Shakespeare, Dickens and George Bernard Shaw. Jane Austen was always saying things like ‘everybody has their failing.’”
(He also pointed out that the New Yorker’s Mary Norris decreed the singular “they” as “just wrong” in her book Between You & Me, just a few pages after writing this sentence: “Nobody wanted to think they were not essential.”)
Related: Actor James Woods owned by Dictionary.com after tweeting anti-trans rant
Greene was right about one thing, at least: “They” is indeed an established pronoun. It’s just not “established” in the way he thinks. Haters gonna hate, but we’ll side with William Shakespeare, Jane Austen, the APA, the Oxford English Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, and everyone who embraces the pronouns of their peers.
I prefer to use IT! 🙂
That is because you are somewhat of an idiot, and choose childishly to aggressively disrespect others.
PLAYS WELL WITH OTHERS
This thit is too confusing. Gives the right-wing smcubags more ammunition to “justify” their bigotry and hatred.
You are either male or female. If you are trans take your new gender proudly…
I tend to agree with 80% of what you are saying…
The word “They” is many particles. one to look down upon
oh, that’s nice. How about “thou” “thee” and other antiquated words ripe for pointless revival .
Call yourself anything you want. I really don’t care. But don’t expect me to. Turn ur azz around, keep walking, and find someone else who will. . .
Sam Smith is a man, and should be called a man. We are men and women, we are not a THEY.
Until recently, I have never seen “they” as a singular pronoun describing a specific person. And the examples given in this article don’t do that either. The “they” in this article are referring to an unidentified singular from “everybody” and “nobody”, which are plural. The usage is completely different.
Also, if you are going to use the evolution of language to defend words falling out of favor, you can’t then turn around and use the fact that it was used hundreds of years ago to defend it’s use today. I suspect that the words Shakespeare and Jane Austen used to refer to black people, Asians and gays would not get the same pass. But nice try.
Couldn’t agree more Brian.
Let’s also not forget that during that time period people overwhelmingly believed the world was flat and the sun revolved around the earth, it was no more true then, than it is today.
First, don’t talk about language from over 500 years ago to justify the language of today. The English language was a completely different thing back then. Secondly, this “research” doesn’t really prove a thing. “They” was not being used to express a singular being even back then and all the research does is reveal that. If someone wants to be referred to as them/they/it or whatever I don’t care. I will respect it despite how awkward and impractical it is. But please don’t pull stuff out of your ass to justify it.
Words evolve. That includes they. “They” has evolved to a pronoun that is exclusively used to refer to two or more entities.
Only in your mind dearie. The rest of reality doesn’t agree.
***Jess, you’re right. I had my faux glasses on upsidedown. I might add physical entities to your wording. ***
All I can say is “To each their own”
Dennis Baron is dishonest.
Oxford finds no precedent for referring to a specific person as “they” before 2009.
“b. With an antecedent referring to an individual generically or indefinitely (e.g. someone, a person, the student), used esp. so as to make a general reference to such an individual without specifying gender. Cf. he pron. 2b.
Specifically, it is a substitute for “he or she” as in the following where it refers to “anyone”:
“My personal rule is to never trust anyone who says that they had a good time in high school.”
Confusing people with semantics isn’t going to change anything or help anybody. I think it trivializes the whole issue.
Comments are closed.