All The More Reason

Manufactured Problems for the Bored
January 31, 2007, 9:23 pm
Filed under: Language

I had the privilege once to sit in on the following conversation within an academic institution (as best as memory can serve).

A (woman) – You know, let’s say an artist wanted to have a bigger audience, she would have to consider changing the medium which she works in.
B – Hmm mmm.
C (man) – Pardon me, I couldn’t help but notice that just now you used the feminine pronoun to describe both men and women.
A – Oh dear, did I? Oh my goodness, I didn’t mean to.
C – Yes, I just caught it there. Maybe I shouldn’t have said anything…
B – You know, there should really be a pronoun that’s gender neutral.
A – (breathes in, dramatic pause building) Herm.
B & C – Sorry?
A – Herm.
B – …Oh, as in both her and him?
A – (satisfied grin on face) Yes, herm. People should use the word ‘herm’.

Well, I won’t bore you all with the trailing out of that little doozy except to give a few thoughts of my own which are quite possibly mirrored by other ATMR readers (or not? Let the debate begin!).

‘Herm’ tastes about as good on the lips as a door would; blunt and dull with zero calories. More to the point, I believe there are at least two viable options in English for the gender–neutral out there. One could go with ‘one’. One could also go with the plural ‘they’, and ‘their’ for the possessive. In most cases, one is referring to a general group of individuals anyways, so the ‘they’ is not that out of place. Of course, one could just stick with either ‘he’ or ‘she’, or if really obsessed by worries of sexism, go with both at the same time. The only thing I would add, though, about the use of both ‘he’ and ‘she’ at the same time, is that it complicates sentences. Perhaps this is worthy of its own entry on this blog, but considering how much people go on about the dumbing of language, it’s amazing the ways in which people manage to complicate it all the same.

Our original example of societal one–up–manship (pardon, one–up–hermship) most likely occurs in many different shapes and forms throughout the Anglosphere. I shudder to think of the other manufactured personal pronouns in their wake (shim? heir?).

Jonathan Smith


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Professor of Criminal Law, Alan Norrie of King’s College London would always employ both the masculine and feminine pronouns, seemingly at random, in his writing. Perhaps the ‘he’s and ‘she’s were equal in volume or perhaps he employed positive discrimination to bolster the oppressed feminine pronouns’ presence in his texts. As a joke, in one of the exams that he marked, I agreed with a friend to refer to anyone committing a crime as ‘she’ and any victim as ‘he’. As far as I know, he was unmoved by my verbal misogyny.

Comment by Michael P

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