Black Hills Woman Magazine | Black Hills Woman Magazine: Relationships

It's His, Her, Thon's World.
by Dorothy Rosby

I'm a rebel. A radical. Ahead of my time. I break a certain grammar rule almost daily and any grammar stickler who doesn’t like it should keep their opinion to themselves.

See how I did that. That’s me breaking the rule right there. I would have said, “…keep his opinion to himself” if I were a well-behaved grammarian.

We were taught that if the gender of an individual we’re referring to is unknown, “he” should be used as the generic pronoun, as in, “Anyone who doubts it’s a man’s world didn’t do his grammar homework.”

We had three choices: Be awkward (he, she or s/he), be sexist or be wrong. I chose to be wrong, as I often do.

But in this case, my wrong was for a greater right. To me, being sexist is far worse than being grammatically incorrect. And saying “he or she,” “him or her” and “his and hers” over and over can take up a lot of space in a 500-word column, not to mention get annoying after a while.

“S/he” just seems goofy, though not as goofy as some of the generic pronouns that have been proposed over the years to settle the issue, for example: “zir,” “xyr” and “thon.” None of those really caught on. I can’t imagine why.

The terms “man” and “mankind” as generic terms were replaced long ago with “humanity” and “humankind.” That was fortunate because they had resulted in some foolish syntax along the way. There’s that classic, old example “Man, being a mammal, breastfeeds his young.” Grammatically correct but really dumb.

But the generic “he” has hung on like a bad habit. And then recently, I heard a radio commentator saying that it’s finally become acceptable to use “they” instead of “he” when the gender is unknown. As a female writer, I was shocked it wasn’t the lead story on all major news outlets. Any grammarian who doesn’t believe me should turn on zir computer and Google it. Language and usage change. Who is he, she or zir to argue? Yes, it’s a man’s world; but it’s a woman’s world too. And as we take our proper place as co-owners and operators of it, it’s only fair we have equal billing on the marquee.

All this time, we’ve been expected to believe that “he” included “she,” which frankly, seems like a stretch. It’s much more reasonable to accept that “they” can double in the role of pronoun for unspecified gender. Plus it’s a lot easier to say than “xyr.” Any grammar nitpicker who is offended by it just needs to get over thonself.

Dorthy RosbyDorothy Rosby breaks lots of other grammar rules too, just usually not on purpose.

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