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M.W.Szychowiak
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Hi Group,

during my English lesson I encountered the following sentence 'Today, St Valentine's Day provides a
chance to let someone know you are interested in them (...)'. My e-dictionary suggests 'Today, St
Valentine's Day provides a chance to let someone know you are interested in his or her (...)'. Which
of them is correct? Thanks for help. With kind regards

Wiktor Sz.
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Dave Swindell
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In article <[email protected]>, M.W.Szychowiak <[email protected]> writes
[q1]>Hi Group,[/q1]
[q1]>[/q1]
[q1]>during my English lesson I encountered the following sentence 'Today, St Valentine's Day provides a[/q1]
[q1]>chance to let someone know you are interested in them (...)'. My e-dictionary suggests 'Today, St[/q1]
[q1]>Valentine's Day provides a chance to let someone know you are interested in his or her (...)'.[/q1]
[q1]>Which of them is correct?[/q1]

See other threads during the last few weeks.

"Them" is perfectly correct, has been for centuries, but seems to annoy one or two posters to this
newsgroup.

"his or her" is very clumsy, and can make someone get himself or herself into terrible tangles when
he or she tries not to use the genderless, singular "they".

It's up to you really.

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Cybercypher
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"M.W.Szychowiak" <[email protected]> burbled news:[email protected]:

[q1]> Hi Group,[/q1]
[q1]>[/q1]
[q1]> during my English lesson I encountered the following sentence 'Today, St Valentine's Day provides[/q1]
[q1]> a chance to let someone know you are interested in them (...)'.[/q1]

This usage is still disputed despite its being a few hundred years old. That people used this
hundreds of years ago is no evidence that it is acceptable ENglish today, however. The language has
changed in the past few hundred years and many of the structures and usages that were prefectly
normal then are no longer used today, and some are even considered wrong or non-standard, like "I
ain't", which used to be perfectly good English about 150-200 years ago. So do not be swayed by
silly historical arguments.

[q1]> My e-dictionary suggests 'Today, St Valentine's Day provides a chance to let someone know you are[/q1]
[q1]> interested in his or her (...)'.[/q1]

I think that "his" must be a typo and should be "him".

[q1]> Which of them is correct?[/q1]

Well, down to the nitty gritty. The choice is yours. Both "him or her" and "them" are unexceptional
in all but the most formal writing, where the first is considered clumsy and the second considered
wrong. This singular "they" stupidity will one day be the norm for English, so you might as well
learn how to use it now.

--
Franke: Grammar 1: Internalized rules for the spoken language. Grammar 2: Formal rules for the
written language. Grammar 1 does not equal Grammar 2.
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Dave Swindell
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In article <[email protected] 3.1.4>, CyberCypher <[email protected]> writes
[q1]>[/q1]
[q1]>Well, down to the nitty gritty. The choice is yours. Both "him or her" and "them" are unexceptional[/q1]
[q1]>in all but the most formal writing, where the first is considered clumsy and the second considered[/q1]
[q1]>wrong. This singular "they" stupidity will one day be the norm for English, so you might as well[/q1]
[q1]>learn how to use it now.[/q1]
[q1]>[/q1]
You call the singular "they" stupidity. You do the English language a grave injustice in this. It
*IS* the older form, it is *NOT* a recent introduction, it *IS* used comfortably by the vast
majority of native English speakers. By contrast the "his or her" formula is exceptional clumsy,
though a rising phenomenon, which may indeed make it an aspect of the language that could catch on.
But in practice I am sure that people pushed to use "he or she" etc will soon find it clumsy and
will ask for something better. But why invent something else when the vast majority of English
speakers use "they" in both formal and informal situations with no embarrassment whatsoever?

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Cybercypher
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Dave Swindell <[email protected]> burbled news:[email protected]:

[q1]> In article <[email protected] 3.1.4>, CyberCypher <[email protected]> writes[/q1]
[q2]>>[/q2]
[q2]>>Well, down to the nitty gritty. The choice is yours. Both "him or her" and "them" are[/q2]
[q2]>>unexceptional in all but the most formal writing, where the first is considered clumsy and the[/q2]
[q2]>>second considered wrong. This singular "they" stupidity will one day be the norm for English, so[/q2]
[q2]>>you might as well learn how to use it now.[/q2]
[q2]>>[/q2]
[q1]> You call the singular "they" stupidity. You do the English language a grave injustice in this. It[/q1]
[q1]> *IS* the older form, it is *NOT* a recent introduction, it *IS* used comfortably by the vast[/q1]
[q1]> majority of native English speakers. By contrast the "his or her" formula is exceptional clumsy,[/q1]
[q1]> though a rising phenomenon, which may indeed make it an aspect of the language that could catch[/q1]
[q1]> on. But in practice I am sure that people pushed to use "he or she" etc will soon find it clumsy[/q1]
[q1]> and will ask for something better. But why invent something else when the vast majority of English[/q1]
[q1]> speakers use "they" in both formal and informal situations with no embarrassment whatsoever?[/q1]
[q1]>[/q1]

Please read what I said more closely. Nothing you say in your rant is not also said in my
previous post.

I mentioned that the singular they form is very old, and I said that ancientness is insufficient to
make an old form acceptable to today's users. If it were sufficient, we'd all still be speaking
olde English.

I also said that one day it will be the norm, which implies that more and more speakers
are using it.

I also call "him or her" clumsy, as you can see for yourself above.

I even begin by telling the original poster that it is their choice, because both forms are
unexceptional in contemporary English.

It is merely my opinion that singular they is, nonetheless, a stupidity. Your opinion is that it is
not. There is no need to take anything personally. I am, after all, just one man, and one who did
not go out of my way to specifically attack you or your predilections, as you have done to me.

Let the original poster decide for themself.

--
Franke: Grammar 1: Internalized rules for the spoken language. Grammar 2: Formal rules for the
written language. Grammar 1 does not equal Grammar 2.
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Dave Swindell
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In article <[email protected] 3.1.4>, CyberCypher <[email protected]> writes
[q1]>Dave Swindell <[email protected]> burbled news:[email protected]:[/q1]
[q1]>[/q1]
[q2]>> In article <[email protected] 3.1.4>, CyberCypher <[email protected]> writes[/q2]
[q3]>>>[/q3]
[q3]>>>Well, down to the nitty gritty. The choice is yours. Both "him or her" and "them" are[/q3]
[q3]>>>unexceptional in all but the most formal writing, where the first is considered clumsy and the[/q3]
[q3]>>>second considered wrong. This singular "they" stupidity will one day be the norm for English, so[/q3]
[q3]>>>you might as well learn how to use it now.[/q3]
[q3]>>>[/q3]
[q2]>> You call the singular "they" stupidity. You do the English language a grave injustice in this. It[/q2]
[q2]>> *IS* the older form, it is *NOT* a recent introduction, it *IS* used comfortably by the vast[/q2]
[q2]>> majority of native English speakers. By contrast the "his or her" formula is exceptional clumsy,[/q2]
[q2]>> though a rising phenomenon, which may indeed make it an aspect of the language that could catch[/q2]
[q2]>> on. But in practice I am sure that people pushed to use "he or she" etc will soon find it clumsy[/q2]
[q2]>> and will ask for something better. But why invent something else when the vast majority of[/q2]
[q2]>> English speakers use "they" in both formal and informal situations with no embarrassment[/q2]
[q2]>> whatsoever?[/q2]
[q2]>>[/q2]
[q1]>[/q1]
[q1]>Please read what I said more closely. Nothing you say in your rant is not also said in my[/q1]
[q1]>previous post.[/q1]
[q1]>[/q1]
Rant? I assure you you would know it if ever I embarked on a rant ;-} If you consider my saying that
your "stupidity" remark does the English language an injustice is a "rant", perhaps you are
demonstrating a certain thinness of skin.

[q1]>I mentioned that the singular they form is very old, and I said that ancientness is insufficient to[/q1]
[q1]>make an old form acceptable to today's users. If it were sufficient, we'd all still be speaking[/q1]
[q1]>olde English.[/q1]
[q1]>[/q1]
My point is that it is used now by the majority of English speakers, as it has been for a very, very
long time. But your point that "ancientness is insufficient to make an old form acceptable to
today's users" is wrong on two points. Firstly because this form is only old insofar as it has been
continual in use for a long time up to the present day, as has most of the English language - by
your argument we should abandon English altogether because it is ancient. And secondly because this
form is current English for most English speakers, which surely demonstrates that it is most
certainly "acceptable".

[q1]>I also said that one day it will be the norm, which implies that more and more speakers are[/q1]
[q1]>using it.[/q1]
[q1]>[/q1]
But it is the norm already. It is he/she that is the interloper.

[q1]>There is no need to take anything personally. I am, after all, just one man, and one who did not go[/q1]
[q1]>out of my way to specifically attack you or your predilections, as you have done to me.[/q1]
[q1]>[/q1]
Personally? Attack you? I have read my post carefully, as I did when I wrote it, and I certainly did
not take anything personally, nor did I intend to "attack" you, merely to suggest that you are wrong
in your opinion.

If any offence was felt by you, then I can only apologise.

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Dave Swindell
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In article <[email protected] 3.1.4>, CyberCypher <[email protected]> writes
[q1]>[/q1]
[q2]>> But your point that "ancientness is insufficient to make an old form acceptable to today's users"[/q2]
[q2]>> is wrong on two points. Firstly because this form is only old insofar as it has been continual in[/q2]
[q2]>> use for a long time up to the present day, as has most of the English language - by your argument[/q2]
[q2]>> we should abandon English altogether because it is ancient.[/q2]
[q1]>[/q1]
[q1]>The language has changed and we have abandoned its ancient forms. It's a lot older than[/q1]
[q1]>thee and me.[/q1]
[q1]>[/q1]
[q2]>> And secondly because this form is current English for most English speakers,[/q2]
[q1]>[/q1]
[q1]>And most English speakers write "alot" instead of "a lot" because they know no better, which is[/q1]
[q1]>perfectly acceptable to the ignorant. Do you buy that as well? I'm sure we will all have to in[/q1]
[q1]>another hundred years or so.[/q1]
[q1]>[/q1]
Certainly many American posters to newsgroups write "alot", but I live and work both in the internet
and the real world, and at least in the UK "alot" is seldom if ever seen.

[q2]>> which surely demonstrates that it is most certainly "acceptable".[/q2]
[q1]>[/q1]
[q1]>Acceptable to whom? Acceptable in what situations? It is not acceptable everywhere and in every[/q1]
[q1]>case, and it is certainly not acceptable to everyone.[/q1]

<Snip the rest of a very erudite response, and an excellent quote from Merriam-Webster's Dictionary
of English Usage>

I particularly thank you for your quote from Webster, but a dispassionate reading of it shows very
little justification for your case, and a myriad of examples supporting "them". I had determined to
examine the literature myself but I am so pleased that it has been done already, and so well.
However, I would point out that the number of "he/she" examples cited is considerably smaller in
proportion, considering the 200 years it was said to be used, against the "they" occurrences.
Webster's opinion on the legitimacy of "they" is, as are yours and mine, still only opinions. I am
far happier to examine the statistics, and point out that "they" has been, and still is, far more
widely used in both formal and casual contexts.

[q1]>Fowler points out that "it sets the literary man's teeth on edge, and he exerts himself to give the[/q1]
[q1]>same meaning in some entirely different way" (2nd ed, Number 11). Apparently, you are not what[/q1]
[q1]>Fowler considers to be "a literary man" but are one of the "popular" users of the language. You can[/q1]
[q1]>also check out Garner's _A Dictionary of Modern American Usage_ and find that although he (and I)[/q1]
[q1]>agree that the singular "they/their/them" will become "the ultimate solution" to the problem of no[/q1]
[q1]>adequate gender-neutral 3rd-person pronoun set in English, it is not ideal and should be worked[/q1]
[q1]>around whenever possible -- so that one does not sound illiterate when one does not need to.[/q1]
[q1]>[/q1]
[q1]>If you want to establish yourself and your dialect as the standard for what is acceptable in[/q1]
[q1]>English, you are free to do so. But I won't accept it. I am more concerned with clarity and[/q1]
[q1]>precision of expression than with employing popularly accepted usages that often sound absurd.[/q1]

Again, you are saying this formula sounds absurd (to you), and Webster claims it puts "the literary
man's teeth on edge". Everything Webster cites in your reference contradicts this. Look at the
number of "literary" people right up to the present day who are at home with the form. There is a
suggestion that it is less acceptable in "formal" writing, but I live by writing, and reading,
admittedly in the UK, and I do not detect any significant expression of rejection, neither in
documents originating here nor there.

[q1]>Lots of idiocies are the norm for the mass-media-only literate and the politically fanatic, but[/q1]
[q1]>that does not make them good English, only normal, everyday, commonplace English, which one can[/q1]
[q1]>speak fluently without knowing how to read and write.[/q1]
[q1]>[/q1]
You have yet again descended to emotive language (idiocies, absurdities etc). Every language has
points that look odd. This does not make these points idiotic or absurd, just odd. Native speakers
get by perfectly well with these oddities. Indeed they give colour and liveliness to all forms of
writing. Oddity is no reason for rejecting a form that is perfectly acceptable to the majority of
native speakers.

But there is nothing idiotic or absurd in the established singular use of "they". It obviously rang
clanging bells in the ears of 18th century pontificators on English grammar, who tried with next to
no success to change it. But the continued currency of it in all levels of English, on both sides of
the pond, shows that sense and the infinite flexibility of human thought processes find the form
suits their needs. There is still, however, a small minority of vociferous writers who object to the
form, following in the skirt tails of their 18th century heroes. But even if you take the point that
"they" is "evolving", and "will soon be the norm" surely you should go with the flow. However it is
*not* evolving, it has already evolved very satisfactorily indeed over the last 500 years or more,
and is alive and well and living in English all round the world.

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Dave Swindell <[email protected]> burbled news:[email protected]:

[q1]> In article <[email protected] 3.1.4>, CyberCypher <[email protected]> writes[/q1]
[q2]>>Dave Swindell <[email protected]> burbled news:[email protected]:[/q2]
[q2]>>[/q2]
[q3]>>> In article <[email protected] 3.1.4>, CyberCypher <[email protected]> writes[/q3]
[q3]>>>>[/q3]
[q3]>>>>Well, down to the nitty gritty. The choice is yours. Both "him or her" and "them" are[/q3]
[q3]>>>>unexceptional in all but the most formal writing, where the first is considered clumsy and the[/q3]
[q3]>>>>second considered wrong. This singular "they" stupidity will one day be the norm for English, so[/q3]
[q3]>>>>you might as well learn how to use it now.[/q3]
[q3]>>>>[/q3]
[q3]>>> You call the singular "they" stupidity. You do the English language a grave injustice in this.[/q3]
[q3]>>> It *IS* the older form, it is *NOT* a recent introduction, it *IS* used comfortably by the vast[/q3]
[q3]>>> majority of native English speakers. By contrast the "his or her" formula is exceptional clumsy,[/q3]
[q3]>>> though a rising phenomenon, which may indeed make it an aspect of the language that could catch[/q3]
[q3]>>> on. But in practice I am sure that people pushed to use "he or she" etc will soon find it clumsy[/q3]
[q3]>>> and will ask for something better. But why invent something else when the vast majority of[/q3]
[q3]>>> English speakers use "they" in both formal and informal situations with no embarrassment[/q3]
[q3]>>> whatsoever?[/q3]
[q3]>>>[/q3]
[q2]>>[/q2]
[q2]>>Please read what I said more closely. Nothing you say in your rant is not also said in my[/q2]
[q2]>>previous post.[/q2]
[q2]>>[/q2]
[q1]> Rant? I assure you you would know it if ever I embarked on a rant ;-} If you consider my saying[/q1]
[q1]> that your "stupidity" remark does the English language an injustice is a "rant", perhaps you are[/q1]
[q1]> demonstrating a certain thinness of skin.[/q1]
[q1]>[/q1]
[q2]>>I mentioned that the singular they form is very old, and I said that ancientness is insufficient[/q2]
[q2]>>to make an old form acceptable to today's users. If it were sufficient, we'd all still be speaking[/q2]
[q2]>>olde English.[/q2]
[q2]>>[/q2]
[q1]> My point is that it is used now by the majority of English speakers, as it has been for a very,[/q1]
[q1]> very long time.[/q1]

If English as it is spoken by the majority of English speakers is the standard against which every
aspect of the language is to be measured, then there are no standards and anything goes. If we were
talking about colloquial speech and informal writing only, the point would not be worth discussing.
Standard English is the vehicle of formal written expression, and while it is true that writers have
resorted to the singular "they/their/them" for a few centuries [1], it has been only when necessity
demanded it, which is, by the way, Fowler's (2d ed) justification for using "different than" instead
of "different from". If the alternative results in a clumsy, unwieldy sentence, then use "different
than"; avoid it whenever possible, however. The same goes for singular "they/their/them".

[q1]> But your point that "ancientness is insufficient to make an old form acceptable to today's users"[/q1]
[q1]> is wrong on two points. Firstly because this form is only old insofar as it has been continual in[/q1]
[q1]> use for a long time up to the present day, as has most of the English language - by your argument[/q1]
[q1]> we should abandon English altogether because it is ancient.[/q1]

The language has changed and we have abandoned its ancient forms. It's a lot older than thee and me.

[q1]> And secondly because this form is current English for most English speakers,[/q1]

And most English speakers write "alot" instead of "a lot" because they know no better, which is
perfectly acceptable to the ignorant. Do you buy that as well? I'm sure we will all have to in
another hundred years or so.

[q1]> which surely demonstrates that it is most certainly "acceptable".[/q1]

Acceptable to whom? Acceptable in what situations? It is not acceptable everywhere and in every
case, and it is certainly not acceptable to everyone. If you want to establish yourself and your
dialect as the standard for what is acceptable in English, you are free to do so. But I won't accept
it. I am more concerned with clarity and precision of expression than with employing popularly
accepted usages that often sound absurd.

Fowler points out that "it sets the literary man's teeth on edge, and he exerts himself to give the
same meaning in some entirely different way" (2nd ed, Number 11). Apparently, you are not what
Fowler considers to be "a literary man" but are one of the "popular" users of the language. You can
also check out Garner's _A Dictionary of Modern American Usage_ and find that although he (and I)
agree that the singular "they/their/them" will become "the ultimate solution" to the problem of no
adequate gender-neutral 3rd-person pronoun set in English, it is not ideal and should be worked
around whenever possible -- so that one does not sound illiterate when one does not need to.

[q2]>>I also said that one day it will be the norm, which implies that more and more speakers are[/q2]
[q2]>>using it.[/q2]
[q2]>>[/q2]
[q1]> But it is the norm already. It is he/she that is the interloper.[/q1]

Lots of idiocies are the norm for the mass-media-only literate and the politically fanatic, but that
does not make them good English, only normal, everyday, commonplace English, which one can speak
fluently without knowing how to read and write.

[q2]>> There is no need to take anything personally. I am, after all, just one man, and one who did not[/q2]
[q2]>> go out of my way to specifically attack you or your predilections, as you have done to me.[/q2]
[q2]>>[/q2]
[q1]> Personally? Attack you? I have read my post carefully, as I did when I wrote it, and I certainly[/q1]
[q1]> did not take anything personally, nor did I intend to "attack" you,[/q1]

Your style is overly agressive, then. There is, for example, no need to use ** around words that are
shouted, eg *IS*; *is* is sufficient to make your point.

[q1]> merely to suggest that you are wrong in your opinion.[/q1]

Never tell people that their opinions are "wrong". Opinions are never right or wrong; they are only
informed or uninformed. Facts, on the other hand, can be called correct or incorrect (right or
wrong, if you prefer). Opinions are feelings. You are certainly free to disagree, as is anyone, but
they are merely statements of likes and dislikes, preferences, taste; therefore, they can never be
right or wrong

[q1]> If any offence was felt by you, then I can only apologise.[/q1]

Apology accepted.

And here is the discussion of this issue in the Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage:

they, their, them The question of the propriety of using they, their, them to refer to indefinite
pronouns and singular nouns has two aspects that are distinct but often overlap. Both relate to
perceived gaps in the language. The first, and most often discussed, is this: One most annoying gap
in English vocabulary is that created by the lack of a third person singular pronoun that does not
state explicitly the sex of the person or persons referred to -Chambers 1985 The missing pronoun, in
other words, would be a common-gender or common-sex (Otto Jespersen's term) third person singular
pronoun. The second aspect of the question is glanced at in Chambers's use of "person or persons"-it
is what Jespersen 1909-49 (vol. 2) refers to as a lack of common number or neutral number, a form of
number that is neither definitely singular nor definitely plural. Jespersen says that "the lack of a
common-number (and common-sex) pronoun leads to the frequent use of they and their in referring to
an indefinite pronoun (or similar expression) in the singular." We shall examine these problematic
aspects of the use of they, their, them separately.
1. Common-gender pronoun. Although the lack of a common-gender third person singular pronoun has
received much attention in recent years from those concerned with women's issues, the problem,
as felt by writers, is much older; the plural pronouns have been pressed into use to supply
the missing form since Middle English: And whoso fyndeth hym out of swich blame, They wol come
up... -Chaucer, "The Pardoner's Prologue,"
ca. 1395 (in Jespersen) The use of the plural pronouns to refer to indefinite pronouns- anyone,
each, everyone, nobody, somebody, etc.-results from the concurrence of two forces: notional
agreement (the indefinite pronouns are usually plural in implication) and the lack of sexual
identification that indefinite pronouns share with they, their, them. You will find many
examples of this reference at the entries in this book under AGREEMENT and at those for the
individual indefinite pronouns. We add only a few examples here: ... every one prepared
themselves -George Pettie, A Petite Pallace of Pettie his Pleasure, 1576 (in McKnight 1928) And
every one to rest themselves betake -Shakespeare, The Rape of Lucrece, 1594 ... if ye from your
hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses -Matthew 18:35 (AV), 1611 Nobody here
seems to look into an Author, ancient or modern, if they can avoid it -Lord Byron, letter, 12
Nov. 1805 I would have everybody marry if they can do it properly -Jane Austen, Mansfield Park,
1814 Everyone in the building is in a constant process of evaluating and criticizing their
institution -Roger Angell, Holiday, November 1953 ... it is too hideous for anyone in their
senses to buy -W. H. Auden, Encounter, February 1955 ... the detachment and sympathy of someone
approaching their own death -Alan Moorehead, The Blue Nile, 1962 Each designs to get sole
possession of the treasure, but they only succeed in killing one another -Sir Paul Harvey, The
Oxford Companion to English Literature, 4th ed., 1967 The relative pronoun who is also unmarked
as to sex, and the plural pronoun is used in reference to it: Who makes you their confidant?
-Jane Austen, Emma, 1815 (in Jespersen) ...who ever thought of sparing their grandmother worry?
-Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence, 1920 ... Al Haig declared, "I'm appalled by this
proceeding. I'm wondering who thinks they are the Secretary of Defense around here." -David A.
Stockman, Newsweek, 28 Apr. 1986 A second kind of reference connects they, their, them to
singular nouns that can apply to either sex or to noun phrases that apply to both sexes. Again,
we can see that the practice has a long history: Every servant in their maysters lyverey -Lord
Berners, translation of Froissart's Chronicles, 1523 (in McKnight) ... every fool can do as
they're bid -Jonathan Swift, Polite Conversation, 1738 (in Jespersen) Every person ... now
recovered their liberty -Oliver Goldsmith, The History of England, 1771 (OED) A person can't
help their birth -W. M. Thackeray, Vanity Fair, 1848 (OED) ... unless a person takes a deal of
exercise, they may soon eat morethan does them good -Herbert Spencer, Autobiography, 1904 (in
Jespersen) It was a surprise to me to note how quickly the native ... learned how to work on the
land in the more modern way and I watched them doing all kinds of work -R. Bates, Paper Print,
Summer 1951 We can only know an actual person by observing their [sic] behaviour in a variety of
different situations -George Orwell, as quoted by Edward Crankshaw, Times Literary Supp., 26
Dec. 1980 The consumer is very careful with what they're spending -Eugene Glazer, on Wall Street
Week (television), 10 Dec. 1982 I had to decide: Is this person being irrational or is he right?
Of course, they were often right -Robert Burchfield, in U.S. News World Report, 11 Aug. 1986 As
most commentators note, the traditional pronoun for each of these cases is the masculine third
person singular, he, his, him. This tradition goes back to the 18th-century grammarians, who
boxed themselves into the position by first deciding that the indefinite pronouns must always be
singular. They then had to decide between the masculine and feminine singular pronouns for use
in reference to the indefinites, and they chose the masculine (they were, of course, all men).
Naturally there is plenty of evidence for the masculine pronoun used in this way: A person can
thus learn to swim up to the limits imposed by his ... physique -Leacock 1943 Nobody attains
reality for my mother until he eats -Flannery O'Connor, letter, 28 June 1956 Now, a writer is
entitled to have Roget on his desk -Barzun 1985 ... everyone allegedly being entitled to his
ignorance -Simon 1980 The client benefits by getting his well drilled at a guaranteed cost -
Annual Report, Global Marine Inc., 1982 In my book, everyone has his book, everyone blows his
nose, and everybody goes his way -Kilpatrick 1984 But the insistence on the masculine singular
has its limitations. Sometimes its results are downright silly: ... everyone will be able to
decide for himself whether or not to have an abortion -Albert Bleumenthal, N.Y. State Assembly
(cited in Longman
1984) Reader's Digest 1983 also points out that the masculine pronoun is awkward at best used in
reference to antecedents of both sexes: She and Louis had a game-who could find the ugliest
photograph of himself -Joseph P. Lash, Eleanor and Franklin (in Reader's Digest) ... the ideal
that every boy and girl should be so equipped that he shall not be handicapped in his struggle
for social progress -C. C. Fries, American English Grammar, 1940 (in Reader's Digest) It is an
arguable point whether a phrase like "every boy and girl" is singular or plural. But note how
much more natural and sensible the plural pronoun sounds: ... the liberty of every father and
mother to educate their children as they desire -Robert A. Taft, quoted in Time, 20 Sept. 1948
Some commentators recommend he or she, his or her, him or her to avoid the sex bias of the
masculine and the presumed solecism of the plural. Bolinger 1980 points out that this
solution, too, is old, going back to the 18th century, but that many commentators are also
hostile to the forms as unwieldy ( see HE , HE OR SHE ). Even the he or she formula can lead
the unwary into trouble, as in this instance where it is used to refer to a plural pronoun:
Those who have been paid for the oil on his or her property -Lucia Mouat, Christian Science
Monitor, 4 Aug. 1983 (cited by Allan Metcalf, American Speech, Fall 1984) One more point needs
to be made. Simon 1980 writes: ... I bristle at Miller and Swift's advocacy of they, their,
etc., as singular pronouns because "reputable writers and speakers" have used them with
indefinite antecedents.... But the lapses of great ones do not make a wrong right.... The
examples here of the "great ones" from Chaucer to the present are not lapses. They are uses
following a normal pattern in English that was established four centuries before the
18th-century grammarians invented the solecism. The plural pronoun is one solution devised by
native speakers of English to a grammatical problem inherent in that language-and it is by no
means the worst solution. We must remember that the English pronoun system is not fixed.
Several centuries ago the objective plural you drove the nominative and objective singulars
thou and thee and the nominative plural ye out of general use. It appears to have happened for
social reasons, not linguistic reasons ( see YOU 3). They, their, them have been used
continuously in singular reference for about six centuries, and have been disparaged in such
use for about two centuries. Now the influence of social forces is making their use even more
attractive. Thomas Pyles ( Modern Language Notes, December 1955) sums up their position: "The
use of they, their, and them as singular relative pronouns of indeterminate gender has long
been perfectly well established, even in formal contexts." Evans 1957 agrees; Reader's Digest
1983 agrees; Chambers 1985 agrees. So do we. But remember that in this case (unlike the case
of you ) you have a choice: you can use the plural pronouns when they seem natural and you can
use the singular pronouns when they seem natural.
1985. Common-number pronoun. The examples involving nouns like person, human being, and fool cited
in the preceding section might have equally well been set down here, because they illustrate
the use of they, their, them to refer to singular nouns used in such a way that the singular
stands for and includes any or all. Examples of this use are very old, and they include many
cases where sex is perfectly obvious: The righteous man ... that taketh not their life in vain
- Pearl, ca. 1380 (spelling modernized)There's not a man I meet but doth salute me As if I
were their well-acquainted friend -Shakespeare, The Comedy of Errors, 1593 'Tis meet that some
more audience than a mother, Since nature makes them partial, should o'erhear The speech
-Shakespeare, Hamlet, 1601 No man goes to battle to be killed.-But they do get killed -George
Bernard Shaw, Three Plays for Puritans, 1901 (in Jespersen) The GI in Britain feels that the
papers ... are ungrateful for their "sacrifices" and contemptuous of their society and country
-Jean Rikhoff Hills, New Republic, 23 Aug. 1954 We even find they, their, them used in
reference to inanimate nouns (although we have no literary evidence for this practice): Do you
wear a chain belt? If not, you may be out of the run of fashion in Ireland, for they are
gaining a widespread popularity - Irish Digest, July 1953 Your usual store should have their
Autumn stocks in now -advt., Punch, 30 Sept. 1953 Oh, we have an argument now and then,but
they never carry over -Lessa Nanney, quoted in Bluegrass Unlimited, February 1981 In addition,
we find they, their, them used in reference to singular nouns modified by a distributive (such
as every ) which imparts a notional plurality: ... every man went to their lodging -Lord
Berners, translation of Froissart's Chronicles, 1523 (in McKnight) ... every president should
assemble their companies -Archbishop Parker, letter, 8 May 1545 (OED) ... every horse had been
groomed with as much rigour as if they belonged to a private gentleman -Thomas De Quincey, The
English Mail Coach, 1849 (in McKnight) They, their, them are used in both literature and
general writing to refer to singular nouns, when those nouns have some notion of plurality
about them. All the cases in this section, and a good many of those in the first section,
illustrate this operation of notional agreement. Look again at the example from Shaw above. It
would be a violation of English idiom to use a singular pronoun in the second sentence (But he
does get killed) on the assumption that because no man is singular in form and governs a
singular verb, it must take a singular pronoun in reference. Notional agreement is in control,
and its dictates must be followed.

--
Franke: Grammar 1: Internalized rules for the spoken language. Grammar 2: Formal rules for the
written language. Grammar 1 does not equal Grammar 2.
0
Kristina Lim
Badges:
#9
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#9
[...]
[q1]> If English as it is spoken by the majority of English speakers is the standard against which every[/q1]
[q1]> aspect of the language is to be measured, then there are no standards and anything goes. If we[/q1]
[q1]> were talking about colloquial speech and informal writing only, the point would not be worth[/q1]
[q1]> discussing. Standard English is the vehicle of formal written expression, and while it is true[/q1]
[q1]> that writers have resorted to the singular "they/their/them" for a few centuries [1], it has been[/q1]
[q1]> only when necessity demanded it, which is, by the way, Fowler's (2d ed) justification for using[/q1]
[q1]> "different than" instead of "different from". If the alternative results in a clumsy, unwieldy[/q1]
[q1]> sentence, then use "different than"; avoid it whenever possible, however. The same goes for[/q1]
[q1]> singular "they/their/them".[/q1]
[q1]>[/q1]
Sorry, off topic....... who's Fowler? Kristina
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Cybercypher
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#10
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#10
"Kristina Lim" <[email protected]> burbled
news[email protected] ops.asp.att.net:

[q1]> [...][/q1]
[q2]>> If English as it is spoken by the majority of English speakers is the standard against which[/q2]
[q2]>> every aspect of the language is to be measured, then there are no standards and anything goes. If[/q2]
[q2]>> we were talking about colloquial speech and informal writing only, the point would not be worth[/q2]
[q2]>> discussing. Standard English is the vehicle of formal written expression, and while it is true[/q2]
[q2]>> that writers have resorted to the singular "they/their/them" for a few centuries [1], it has been[/q2]
[q2]>> only when necessity demanded it, which is, by the way, Fowler's (2d ed) justification for using[/q2]
[q2]>> "different than" instead of "different from". If the alternative results in a clumsy, unwieldy[/q2]
[q2]>> sentence, then use "different than"; avoid it whenever possible, however. The same goes for[/q2]
[q2]>> singular "they/their/them".[/q2]
[q2]>>[/q2]
[q1]> Sorry, off topic....... who's Fowler?[/q1]

Not off topic at all. Henry W. Fowler, author of _A Dictionary of Modern English Usage_ (1926),
revised by Gowers (2d ed; 1965), and again by Burchfield (1996).

--
Franke: Grammar 1: Internalized rules for the spoken language. Grammar 2: Formal rules for the
written language. Grammar 1 does not equal Grammar 2.
0
Cybercypher
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#11
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#11
Dave Swindell <[email protected]> burbled news:[email protected]:

[q1]> In article <[email protected] 3.1.4>, CyberCypher <[email protected]> writes[/q1]
[q2]>>[/q2]
[q3]>>> But your point that "ancientness is insufficient to make an old form acceptable to today's[/q3]
[q3]>>> users" is wrong on two points. Firstly because this form is only old insofar as it has been[/q3]
[q3]>>> continual in use for a long time up to the present day, as has most of the English language - by[/q3]
[q3]>>> your argument we should abandon English altogether because it is ancient.[/q3]
[q2]>>[/q2]
[q2]>>The language has changed and we have abandoned its ancient forms. It's a lot older than[/q2]
[q2]>>thee and me.[/q2]
[q2]>>[/q2]
[q3]>>> And secondly because this form is current English for most English speakers,[/q3]
[q2]>>[/q2]
[q2]>>And most English speakers write "alot" instead of "a lot" because they know no better, which is[/q2]
[q2]>>perfectly acceptable to the ignorant. Do you buy that as well? I'm sure we will all have to in[/q2]
[q2]>>another hundred years or so.[/q2]
[q2]>>[/q2]
[q1]> Certainly many American posters to newsgroups write "alot", but I live and work both in the[/q1]
[q1]> internet and the real world, and at least in the UK "alot" is seldom if ever seen.[/q1]
[q1]>[/q1]
[q3]>>> which surely demonstrates that it is most certainly "acceptable".[/q3]
[q2]>>[/q2]
[q2]>>Acceptable to whom? Acceptable in what situations? It is not acceptable everywhere and in every[/q2]
[q2]>>case, and it is certainly not acceptable to everyone.[/q2]
[q1]>[/q1]
[q1]> <Snip the rest of a very erudite response, and an excellent quote from Merriam-Webster's[/q1]
[q1]> Dictionary of English Usage>[/q1]
[q1]>[/q1]
[q1]> I particularly thank you for your quote from Webster, but a dispassionate reading of it shows very[/q1]
[q1]> little justification for your case, and a myriad of examples supporting "them".[/q1]

I thought you would enjoy that little exposition. If you look carefully at the quotes, you will see
that in every case that a great writer like Shaw used the form, it could not be avoided except by
using some less desirable locution. The contemporary cites are of no value, I think. I provided that
not to justify my position, but to demonstrate that the dispute is a long-standing one.

[q1]> I had determined to examine the literature myself but I am so pleased that it has been done[/q1]
[q1]> already, and so well. However, I would point out that the number of "he/she" examples cited is[/q1]
[q1]> considerably smaller in proportion,[/q1]

"he/she" is not the form I favor. Too long. I prefer "s/he". It is my way of complaining about the
lack of an adequate form.

[q1]> considering the 200 years it was said to be used, against the "they" occurrences. Webster's[/q1]
[q1]> opinion on the legitimacy of "they" is, as are yours and mine, still only opinions.[/q1]

Yes, yes, that is true, and because they are only opinions, they are matters of taste and require
some sort of emotional commitment or else a diffidence that quashes comment.

[q1]> I am far happier to examine the statistics, and point out that "they" has been, and still is, far[/q1]
[q1]> more widely used in both formal and casual contexts.[/q1]

There are lies, damn lies, and statistics, said Mark Twain. You may put your faith in numbers,
but I do not.

[q2]>>Fowler points out that "it sets the literary man's teeth on edge, and he exerts himself to give[/q2]
[q2]>>the same meaning in some entirely different way" (2nd ed, Number 11). Apparently, you are not what[/q2]
[q2]>>Fowler considers to be "a literary man" but are one of the "popular" users of the language. You[/q2]
[q2]>>can also check out Garner's _A Dictionary of Modern American Usage_ and find that although he (and[/q2]
[q2]>>I) agree that the singular "they/their/them" will become "the ultimate solution" to the problem of[/q2]
[q2]>>no adequate gender-neutral 3rd-person pronoun set in English, it is not ideal and should be worked[/q2]
[q2]>>around whenever possible -- so that one does not sound illiterate when one does not need to.[/q2]
[q2]>>[/q2]
[q2]>>If you want to establish yourself and your dialect as the standard for what is acceptable in[/q2]
[q2]>>English, you are free to do so. But I won't accept it. I am more concerned with clarity and[/q2]
[q2]>>precision of expression than with employing popularly accepted usages that often sound absurd.[/q2]
[q1]>[/q1]
[q1]> Again, you are saying this formula sounds absurd (to you), and Webster[/q1]

That's Henry W Fowler, author of _The King's English_ (1906) and _A Dictionary of Modern English
Usage_ (1926), not Webster.

[q1]> claims it puts "the literary man's teeth on edge". Everything Webster cites in your reference[/q1]
[q1]> contradicts this. Look at the number of "literary" people right up to the present day who are at[/q1]
[q1]> home with the form.[/q1]

And some people eat pig intestines (chitterlings), fish eyes (Japanese), putrified duck fetuses
(Koreans), the brains of living monkeys (East Indians and Chinese), and chicken heads (Italian and
Taiwanese peasants like my grandmother and my mother-in-law) but the very idea makes me want to
vomit. I am not influenced by what the masses like or do unless I have to be, and I don't have to be
in this case, do I.

[q1]> There is a suggestion that it is less acceptable in "formal" writing, but I live by writing, and[/q1]
[q1]> reading, admittedly in the UK, and I do not detect any significant expression of rejection,[/q1]
[q1]> neither in documents originating here nor there.[/q1]

As you pointed out, a lot of Americans use "alot" and a lot fewer Brits
do. If you find that Brits in general don't have any problem with singular "they/their/them", great.
This American finds it distasteful except when faced without a less tasteful alternative. I keep
hearing complaints from Brits about how Americans use "gotten" instead of "got". I think this is
another one of those instances where there is a pondian difference.

[q2]>>Lots of idiocies are the norm for the mass-media-only literate and the politically fanatic, but[/q2]
[q2]>>that does not make them good English, only normal, everyday, commonplace English, which one can[/q2]
[q2]>>speak fluently without knowing how to read and write.[/q2]
[q2]>>[/q2]
[q1]> You have yet again descended to emotive language (idiocies, absurdities etc).[/q1]

If you think that language usage is a matter of logic and not emotion, then you are sadly mistaken.
Were it so, good authors would not have so much angst about how they say what they say, and they
would not quarrel with their copy editors about stylistic changes. I do not descend to emotive
language, I use it where it must be used. Matters of opinion and taste - and this is clearly a
matter of opinion and taste -- are all about feelings and emotions, not logic and not facts. Didn't
your parents ever tell you that you could not say or do or have something even though all your
friends said or did or had that something? You are arguing that numbers should override sense and
sensibilities and that the taste and values of the masses ought to override my own. I do not find
that argument compelling

[q1]> Every language has points that look odd. This does not make these points idiotic or absurd,[/q1]
[q1]> just odd.[/q1]

Some of the language's oddities are perfectly reasonable and lovable idiosyncracies, but some of
them are hateful, eg "just between you and I". They turn the language into a kind of "Victory Gin"
when they are so common as to be accepted by even the supposedly educated and literate. It is not
only a case of the language changing naturally, but also of the language sinking to the level of the
lowest common denominator, like thinking that Jackson Pollack was more than mediocre, that Barry
Manilow is a great vocalist, and that a Russian performance artist who stands chained and collared
on his hands and knees in a cage while barking like a dog is making some kind of worthwhile artistic
statement; judging by their popularity, of course, Pollack *is* revered by those who go with the
flow, Barry Manilow *is* a brilliant singer to those who love top-40 schlock, and that Russian *is*
worthy of the name "artist" to those who wish to appear fashionable.

[q1]> Native speakers get by perfectly well with these oddities.[/q1]

Some, many, or most, perhaps, but not all. Please do not overstate your case. I am a native
speaker of AmE and have been for 58 years, and I have been teaching the language for 30 years,
during which I have lost my prejudices about how it is used in colloquial speech and informal
writing. I am a professional medical editor and technical writer as well as an English teacher
now, and I care about formal written English usage. When this particular oddity we are discussing
can be avoided, I avoid it.

[q1]> Indeed they give colour and liveliness to all forms of writing.[/q1]

But I am not complaining about what happens in all forms of writing, only in formal written English.

[q1]> Oddity is no reason for rejecting a form that is perfectly acceptable to the majority of native[/q1]
[q1]> speakers.[/q1]

No, but absurdity and idiocy are. (Here we are back at the emotive level, aren't we? "oddity" is
just a typically understated negative judgment, and all such judgments about language usage are
emotional, not factual. Anything odd strikes one as being not quite right, an emotional reaction
because it assails one's aesthetic sense.)
[q1]>[/q1]
[q1]> But there is nothing idiotic or absurd in the established singular use of "they". It obviously[/q1]
[q1]> rang clanging bells in the ears of 18th century pontificators on English grammar, who tried with[/q1]
[q1]> next to no success to change it.[/q1]

This has nothing to do with the lowthy prescriptive grammarians of yore. I detest their idiocies and
absurdities as well.

[q1]> But the continued currency of it in all levels of English, on both sides of the pond, shows that[/q1]
[q1]> sense and the infinite flexibility of human thought processes find the form suits their needs.[/q1]

The form does not "suit their needs"; rather, it ill fits their needs. What English needs is a new
set of gender-neutral 3rd-person pronouns rather than the procrustean adaptation of the plural that
we now have and seem doomed to have to live with in the distant future as well.

[q1]> There is still, however, a small minority of vociferous writers who object to the form, following[/q1]
[q1]> in the skirt tails[/q1]

That's "shirttails" and "coattails". Skirts do not have tails, except, of course, the ones
they embrace.

[q1]> of their 18th century heroes.[/q1]

You jump to conclusions, I fear. Those who defend the 18th-century prescriptivists are anathema to
careful and thoughtful users of English -- and to the careless and thoughtless alike.

[q1]> But even if you take the point that "they" is "evolving", and "will soon be the norm" surely you[/q1]
[q1]> should go with the flow.[/q1]

Why? If I think the flow is polluted and believe that I can do better, I should stand on principle,
which I do, and do better, which I think I
dp. I don't think that I will change the common speaker's habits; that is tilting at windmills.

[q1]> However it is *not* evolving, it has already evolved very satisfactorily indeed over the last 500[/q1]
[q1]> years or more, and is alive and well and living in English all round the world.[/q1]

That the usage is still disputed is sufficient evidence that it has not evolved into something
acceptable to all, and I doubt that it will before my expiration. As I said before, you are entitled
to your opinion and to your right to use the language as you choose. I am entitled to the same.
There is no need to emulate those who for centuries have wished to prove the unprovable.

--
Franke: Grammar 1: Internalized rules for the spoken language. Grammar 2: Formal rules for the
written language. Grammar 1 does not equal Grammar 2.
0
Cybercypher
Badges:
#12
Report 17 years ago
#12
Dave Swindell <[email protected]> burbled news:[email protected]:

[q1]> In article <Xns9234[email protected] .1.4>, CyberCypher <[email protected]> writes[/q1]
[q1]>[/q1]
[q1]> Thank you for that reply, I really enjoyed reading it. I think we can resolve all our differences[/q1]
[q1]> by laying them on the altar of "style", which allows just about everything (whoops, perhaps you[/q1]
[q1]> might not like that),[/q1]

Fortunately, we don't have linguistic police like the religious police that patrol the streets in
Islamic countries. Anything and everything is allowed in everyday communication. But that is not
what these usage disputes are about. They are about aesthetics. Anyone who claims that they are
about the logic or inviolable prescriptive rules of the language is someone to avoid; such a person
obviously knows too little about the nature of language.

[q1]> though I would obviously say that "they" has style and "s/he" don't ;-)[/q1]

I never claimed that "s/he" had style, only that my use of such an obviously odious form was a
complaint about the lack of a proper form. I would prefer to use "it" or even "It" or perhaps borrow
"ta" and "tade" (possessive) from Chinese.

[q3]>>> However it is *not* evolving, it has already evolved very satisfactorily indeed over the last[/q3]
[q3]>>> 500 years or more, and is alive and well and living in English all round the world.[/q3]
[q2]>>[/q2]
[q2]>>That the usage is still disputed is sufficient evidence that it has not evolved into something[/q2]
[q2]>>acceptable to all, and I doubt that it will before my expiration. As I said before, you are[/q2]
[q2]>>entitled to your opinion and to your right to use the language as you choose. I am entitled to the[/q2]
[q2]>>same. There is no need to emulate those who for centuries have wished to prove the unprovable.[/q2]
[q2]>>[/q2]
[q1]> The usage may indeed be disputed, but only by a small minority. That minority is, however, in[/q1]
[q1]> step ;-)[/q1]

Pure happenstance.

[q1]> You mentioned got and gotten. I don't know if you saw a posting I put in another newsgroup where I[/q1]
[q1]> asked for a reasoned and justified account of why it has continued in the US and why it fell out[/q1]
[q1]> of use over here. You sound as if you have something to contribute, and I'd like to hear it. I[/q1]
[q1]> will post it again under "Got and gotten" and look forward to reading more from you.[/q1]
[q1]>[/q1]
[q1]> All these trans-pondian differences fascinate me. I look forward to the time when the two dialects[/q1]
[q1]> finally diverge and can be classified as quite different languages.[/q1]

You mean like Swedish and Norwegian? Indonesian and Malay? They are already classified as two
different languages, BrE and AmE. The only time that is a problem is when idiots on both sides of
the pond begin claiming that their brand is somehow better than the other. I doubt that they will
diverge rather than converge. It would be a shame to lose the already minuscule understanding that
still exists on both sides of the pond at the moment.

[q1]> Pronunciation is probably the first step, and I already find myself having to listen more and more[/q1]
[q1]> carefully to American, and missing more and more. But, as you can see from my web page, we share[/q1]
[q1]> much the same summers, and the ear wax is making up for lost time %-{[/q1]

In my world, bikers get special dispensations, especially those with full facial hair going or gone
white. I ride one every day and wouldn't have a car, although my wife does.

--
Franke: Grammar 1: Internalized rules for the spoken language. Grammar 2: Formal rules for the
written language. Grammar 1 does not equal Grammar 2.
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