Another topic

minnow at belfry.org.uk minnow at belfry.org.uk
Thu Dec 4 10:53:43 EST 2003


Robyn Starkey wrote:

>Charlie's reference points to the exceptional use of singular they. We had
>a massive debate in our department about this issue last semester (everyone
>teaches at least some composition, so we care). Usages like
>"everyone...they" are a grey area, because, as the article points out,
>sometimes the use of everyone is clearly plural. Some people find it
>acceptable, others do not.
>
>The problem I have is that my students then think that it is okay to use
>they even when the subject is clearly singular: "a student handed in their
>homework."

If they had some real incentive, like a tutor with a submachinegun and a
short fuse, they might consider avoiding "their" altogether and just saying
"the", I suppose, in that particular sentence.  It's surprising how often
one can go round somehow without being gender-specific if one really tries.

It's possible to write a whole book and never once give any clue as to
whether the protagonist is a girl-child or a boy-child.  How long was it
before any other list-member noticed that Kay might be either, in *Yes,
Dear*?  Took me right through the proofs and being Chuckled At before I
grasped it, and I had been hinted to that I ought to be looking out for
something a bit unusual about this book.  (So of course I was looking for
the wrong sort of "something", that's my excuse.)

Are there other examples, not counting ones about hermaphrodytes or or
transsexuals?  It can cause very great confusion in books with
cross-dressing -- thinking of the opening chapter of Georgette Heyer's *The
Masqueraders*, in which what look like the wrong pronouns start to be used
all of a sudden.

Minnow


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