Another topic

minnow at minnow at
Tue Dec 2 20:07:15 EST 2003

Helen Schinske wrote:
>Yes. Which reminds me, it took me some twenty-five or thirty years to
>figure out that the Psammead in _Five Children and It_ is NOT CALLED HE
>("she" never occurred to me). Not ever. It is an it. Dang, Nesbit only
>hits you over the head with the fact in the title and all. I'm slow

For some years I assumed the narrator in the Bastable stories was female,
because I knew the author was, and thought there was one more child than
there really is in that family.  I don't think I cottoned on to the fact
that Oswald was also the narrator until I was at least seven.

She is a bit confusing that way.

And Charlie replied Helen:
>Well, I'd missed that too :-) But I had noticed Nesbit's habit of using
>'it' to refer to a child, when either sex or both might be being referred
>to (as in sentences of this kind: 'Each of the children was looking
>forward to its tea.') When I first read Nesbit I thought this was probably
>be a feature of writing from that period - influenced either by a
>particularly sexless view of childhood, or by languages like German where
>'Kind' is indeed neuter. Now it occurs to me that I don't remember coming
>across it since in any other writer. Is it a Nesbitism specifically, or
>was this usage widespread?

In the matter of calling each child in a gaggle "it", as in your example: I
don't quite see how, if you have a mixed-sex group of persons each of whom
is feeling something, you can get round that.  "All the children were
looking forward to their tea" would do at a pinch, but it doesn't carry the
same feeling that each is an individual as well as them being a collective
noun -- as it were.

I can give you another author who uses "it" in this way: C.S. Lewis. "At
the name of Aslan each of the children felt something jump in its inside."
(*The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe*, chapter 7, "A Day With the
Beavers", I opened the book at random.)

That's the only one I come up with straight off, though.


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