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14 March 2008 @ 05:10 pm
"he" as a gender neutral pronoun  
"The average American needs the small routines of getting ready for work. As he shaves or blow-dries his hair or pulls on his panty hose, he is easing himself by small stages into the demands of the day."

"Who can afford to allow a virtual feminist to elbow his way like a noisy drunk into that inner mental circle where all your faculties (such as they are) are laboring to produce decent prose?"

"Is it your brother or your sister who can hold his breath for four minutes?"

They all sound a bit odd.

Examples from Language Log and gigamonkeys.

The middle example was "her way", but it was from an article by someone called Gelernter arguing against the use of "he or she", saying that "he" means exactly the same thing. As gigamonkeys points out, not all feminists are women, so by Gelernter's own argument, it should be "his way".

I notice another weird bit near the end of Gelernter's article. He talks about the loss of the phrase "great men", saying that alternatives such as "great person" sound silly. For someone who hates the change of plurality when using "they" as a singular gender neutral pronoun, he's not very good at keeping singular and plural straight himself. An alternative to "great men" would be "great people". His example sentence "Wittgenstein was a great man" is fine as it is - we know Wittgenstein was a man. Is Gelernter seriously suggesting "man" is gender neutral in that sentence? Would he have no problem with the sentence "Queen Elizabeth was a great man" or "Wittgenstein and Queen Elizabeth were great men"? Surely "Queen Elizabeth was a great woman" or "Wittgenstein and Queen Elizabeth were great [people]" is better.
There are so many colours in the rainbow.followthebird on March 14th, 2008 08:07 pm (UTC)
I agree.