Another topic

minnow at minnow at
Wed Dec 3 18:41:31 EST 2003

Charlie replied to my example of "it" for each individual among a group:

>> 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.)
>Thanks for the example, Minnow - I should have remembered that. Mind you,
>the Narnia books are so steeped in Nesbit's influence that I'm not sure he
>counts as an independent witness!

Are they?  He read them, according to Carpenter's "Inklings", but I don't
know how steeped he was, any more than in eg Mark Twain, which C also cites
as books Lewis had available to read.

>Sally and Sarah both disliked the use of 'they/their/them' as a
>gender-neutral singular pronoun. I disagree, but this is one of my
>hobby-horses and I've been riding it just recently on another list, so I'll
>refrain on this occasion. However, in that other discussion I was pointed to
>an interesting article on the history of this usage, and of the objections
>to it: For interest, as
>they say.

Not being webbed....  "They" as a singular turns up in the King James and
in Shakespeare, and I've no particular objection to it if the usage is
clear (though ambiguous), but I *do* object to not being *allowed* to say
"he" if I am talking about a sex-non-specific member of mankind or humanity
-- if I happen to want to!  Or if it happens to be the quickest and
clearest way to phrase the thing, of course.

And that (obDWJ) is why I find the story *Chairperson* a source of delight.
The gyrations involved in avoiding offensively using anything masculine as
an inclusive term (except of course poet[1], author, actor, professor,
tutor, doctor, and so forth, any of which having a feminine form is also
unacceptable, possibly because most of them sounded or would sound silly --
imagine a group of professesses -- but more likely for some high
ideological reason, and high ideology nearly always seems to involve a
senseofhumourectomy somewhere along the line, have you ever noticed how
difficult it is to get anyone espousing an 'ism' of any kind to crack a
smile about anything to do with their Cause?) sometimes lead to some fairly
silly results.

I did sympathise with the husband of one Mayor of Totnes who jibbed at
being called "the Lady Mayoress", which was the title that benighted burgh
insisted on giving to the Mayor's spouse, and took refuge on formal
occasions in puff-hose, a doublet and a short-sword just to make his point
about archaism.  :-)

Sudden thought: are female ballet dancers still ballerinas?  And is a bloke
who cleans houses for a living called a charman?  Or even better, a

I think the best rule is that language *grows*, and any deliberate
sudden-changing of it is probably a mistake however high-minded or
well-intentioned.  Things sound stilted and silly if they haven't happened
because that's what people found it easiest and best to say.  And as a
friend of mine once remarked during a heated discussion of some point of
grammar, "English is very resilient"; it'll probably get round to
discarding things, in time, without being forced to by edict.

[1] and poets don't play fair even in latin, they look feminine and are
masculine.  T'cha, poeta!  Classically confused!


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