Thursday, March 15, 2007

How Can I Write In A Gender-Neutral Manner?

By using "his" instead of:

- His or hers
- Their
- One's
- The person's

His dog -- and not his or her dog. their dog, one's dog, or the person's dog.

In many languages, most nouns are considered either masculine or feminine. This categorization, to us, seems to be a vestige of some long-forgotten and primitive way of looking at the world. Why is a fork considered masculine in Burpian? And why is a hat considered feminine in Blemish? It seems nonsensical.

Or is it? Certainly, sophisticated languages such as French that routinely genderize neutral words could not possibly be considered nonsensical -- or "sexist". Then, why should English be singled out for its occasional genderizing of gender-neutral or gender-ambiguous objects?

Just as words like "turnip" and "cardboard" have genders in other languages by custom, English usually uses "he" to describe gender neutrality or ambiguity.

And yet, watch as people trip over themselves with semantic distractions with sentences like, "I hope that he or she will honor my receipt". Instead of making your point about getting a refund, you have distracted your audience to instead focus on the pronoun construction.

Like any other language (or actually, more than most other languages), English has lots of odd grammar and vocabulary rules -- in addition to seemingly illogical idioms. But fortunately, we all understand how words ending in "ough" are pronounced, we all understand that "goed" is not the past tense of "go", we all understand that "long in the tooth" means "getting old", and we all understand that "he" does not necessarily imply that the subject is male. It's a feature of the language, and not a "statement" about women.

People interested in interpreting innocuous language patterns as political expressions of victimhood might feel otherwise, though.

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