Gender-neutral pronouns(Usage Disputes)
"Singular 'they'" is the name generally given to the use of "they", "them", "their", or "theirs" with a singular antecedent such as "someone" or "everyone", as in "Everyone was blowing their nose." (It does not refer to the use of singular verbs in such mock- illiterate sentences as "Them's the breaks" and "Them as has, gets." Any verb agreeing with a singular "they" is plural: "Someone killed him, and they are going to pay for it.") Singular "they" has been used in English since the time of Chaucer. Prescriptive grammarians have traditionally (since 1746, although the actual practice goes right back to 1200) prescribed "he": "Everyone was blowing his nose." In 1926, Fowler wrote that singular "they" had an "old-fashioned sound [...]; few good modern writers would flout the grammarians so conspicuously." But in recent decades, singular "they" has gained popularity as a result of the move towards gender-neutral language. For a defence of singular "they", with examples from Shakespeare, Jane Austen, and others, see Henry Churchyard's page: http://www.crossmyt.com/hc/linghebr/austheir.html; But note that not all of us are as keen on singular "they" as Henry is. Asked to fill in the blank in sentences such as "A patient who doesn't accurately report ___ sexual history to the doctor runs the risk of misdiagnosis", only 3% of AHD3's usage panel chose "their". AHD3's usage note says: "this solution ignores a persistent intuition that expressions such as _everyone_ and _each student_ should in fact be treated as grammatically singular." An example from Fowler wittily demonstrates how singular "they" never seems to agree perfectly: "Everyone was blowing their nose"? "Everyone was blowing their noses"? "Everyone were blowing their noses"? Proposals for other gender-neutral pronouns get made from time to time, and some can be found in actual use ("sie" and "hir" are the ones most frequently found on Usenet). Cecil Adams, in _Return of the Straight Dope_ (Ballantine, 1994, ISBN 0-345-38111-4), says that some eighty such terms have been proposed, the first of them in the 1850s. John Chao (email@example.com) was constructing a long FAQ on this topic: [...] http://www.aetherlumina.com/gnp/index.html. Discussions about gender-neutral pronouns tend to go round and round and never reach a conclusion. Please refrain. (We also get disputes about the use of the word "gender" in the sense of "sex", i.e., of whether a human being is male or female. This also dates from the 14th century. By 1900 it was restricted to jocular use, but it has now been revived because of the "sexual relations" sense of "sex".)
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