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Bad Advice On Grammar-Policing Gender-Neutral Pronouns


Which do you prioritize? Living, breathing people — members of a systemically and institutionally marginalized minority — or a theoretical concept?

“Help! I don’t want my guy seeing, admiring, or being turned on by other naked women! Do I have to accept that my fiancé will attend a bachelor party?

— Via “Ask E. Jean,” Elle17 January 2018

My dear, you certainly do not! Just be sure that before you install your beau on his rocket to the moon, where you can be happily assured he will live out the rest of his life with nary a naked woman in his orbit, you don’t forget to make an appointment with a reputable local evil scientist beforehand. They’ll be able to divest your dearest love of his cranial capacity for imaginative thought, lest he recall the DVD cover of Showgirls after you launch him into the vacuum of space, where he will be all yours forever.

“What pronouns would Miss Manners advise using when referring to people who do not identify as either male or female?

work with many young people in a community where a good number identify themselves as ‘gender fluid.’ Using ‘it’ to refer to their friends in this category is seen as offensive, as it equates a person with an object, so my patients refer to such friends as ‘they,’ even while talking about one person. As in, ‘Then Jordan told me they were going to visit their grandmother in Wisconsin.’’

I want to be respectful of how people choose to refer to themselves, but the grammarian in me cannot tolerate using ‘they’ or ‘them’ to refer to a single person. Thus, I find myself sticking to the person’s name only, as in ‘How long will Jordan be in Wisconsin?’ [Do you] have any suggestions for a better gender-fluid pronoun?”

— Via “Miss Manners,” Washington Post, 18 January 2018

Gentle Reader,

This modern world is full of quandaries and conundra, isn’t it? On the one hand, you have human people with human feelings, and on the other hand, you have an entirely insentient entity, the English language, which is wholly incapable of being hurt or offended in any way. Obviously you don’t want to upset either camp, but which do you prioritize? Living, breathing people — members of a systemically and institutionally marginalized minority — who have specifically identified the pronouns that people like you are to use for them so as to avoid causing the exact kind of offense that you profess to be concerned about committing? Or a theoretical concept that not only has no way of knowing whether you’ve used it incorrectly but in fact changes so rapidly that the notion of “correct” is functionally moot anyway, not to mention that being preoccupied with particular grammatical usages signals not a deep concern for linguistic propriety but is instead a probably classist and very likely racist and almost certainly ableist approach to human communicationYou’re in a mighty fucking pickle, here!

It is kind of you to seek to respect people who have provided and in many instances written instructions about how they’d like to be addressed by wondering if there’s literally anything else you can do besides the thing they’ve asked you to do, but we can’t make everyone happy all the time, can we? Stick to talking solely to, and about, yourself. That way you can minimize the fallout after a load of offended gerunds come beating down your door. You know how gerunds get.

“I haven’t been in a relationship since 1995. Is it true when they say, ‘Use it or lose it,’ and does it hold true for women also?”

—From “WANTS TO KNOW IN INDIANA” via “Dear Abby,” 20 January 2018

Dear Wants to Know,

There’s only one way to find out!