A modest proposal
I’ve been under the weather again and devoid of great thoughts about writing other than yeah, sure would be nice to sit up and do some. So in lieu of exciting new stuff, I’m going to repeat a recent proposal from my personal blog. Hey, it’s about language. Writers use language. It’s relevant.
Recently I came across an opinion column in the New York Times whose author, whom I’ll refer to as F.M. because I don’t want to give F.M. extra attention, complained bitterly about the oppression of traditional English-language third-person gendered pronouns. Yes. Referring to someone as “he” or “she” isn’t just a feature of the way our language developed; it would never happen if, in F.M.’s words, “we were not all so irredeemably obsessed by the particulars of the parts dangling between our fellow humans’ legs, nor the ridiculous expectations signified by those parts about how we should act and speak and dress and feel.”
Does F.M. believe that Hungarians, who use “ö” for third person singular without specifying gender, are less obsessed by certain body parts than are Americans? Listen, I’ve known a lot of Hungarians, and most of them took a healthy interest in those body parts and what they could do with them.
What about speakers of Swahili, which typically uses “yeye” for third person singular? I promise you that a culture which encases women in black bags has some seriously ridiculous expectations for gender-appropriate behavior.
Then there’s Hindi (vah), Finnish (hän), Igbo (ya)… Need I continue?
If the grammar of English and related languages is so oppressive, maybe F.M. could learn Hungarian, Swahili, Hindi, Finnish, Igbo, or one of the many other languages that doesn’t have the he/she distinction. Sure, there might be a smaller audience in each of these languages for silly opinion pieces, but surely that’s a tiny price to pay for freedom from these horrible gender expectations!
But nooo, F.M. wants us to change standard English usage and make “they” the standard third person singular pronoun. F.M. isn’t going to change a damn thing; rather, the rest of us must all change our language to conform to F.M.’s sensibilities!
Fortunately, English already has a non-gender-specific third person pronoun: “it”. And yes, “it” is used to refer to living beings when we don’t know or care about the gender.
“If your dog keeps barking, would you please take it inside?”
“Watch out for that baby, it’s about to throw itself out of the cradle!”
“Darling, there’s a possum sitting in the trash can and snarling at me; would you please persuade it to go somewhere else?”
I will be happy to refer to F.M. as “it” from now on, and I hope it is properly appreciative of my decision to respect its feelings.
(Image: Whoisjohngalt [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D