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The Grammarian Was a He, by Jessica Love

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In The American Scholar, Jessica Love wrote a thought provoking article about gender neutral pronouns. I have often wondered what a solution might be and playfully imagined the invention of a pronoun like "shim" to accommodate both genders, Personally I try to work around pronouns by finding a way to avoid the issue. It's not always possible and I end up with the generally regarded clumsy he or she.

I thought that a practice so ancient in our language would not likely change easily until I read Jessica Love's article (which by the way I found on www.newtlist.com). Who knew that it was indeed changed from the generally accepted practice of using "they" as a gender neutral pronoun for both singular and plural subjects. "....prior to the 19th century, “they” was commonly—and uncontroversially—used as a generic singular pronoun.

Grammarians were the ones who inserted the generic “he” into English about 200 years ago in an effort to improve the language."

And delightfully one of the readers provided a comment which shows examples of ancient texts doing exactly this.

I don't recommend "they" in formal writing because...well, not every reader is up to speed with....oh never mind.

Jessica Love has a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology and is currently a postdoc at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.


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