Have you ever been to a get together, a function, an big-city event, whathaveyou–and someone hands you a name tag and a marker, explaining that you ought to indicate your name and your preferred pronouns? It can happen to anyone nowadays.
If your in your thirties or above, your third grade brain is most likely baffled. “What pronoun could there be but the one I’ve always used?”, it baffles. Of course, your larger mind knows about how some people don’t feel adequately served by either “he” or “she” and so want another option, which most likely is “they”, and, since here’s a fight not worth even contemplating, you shrug and write down your name and the pronoun you’re using these days.
It’s fine. Whatever, move on.
But at the same time, no one is a plural.
Ask around and you’ll find that “they”, “them”, and “their” are just used for want of a better option.
OK, well, it’s up to us. We can write whatever we want on the nametags. We’re preferring whatever pronouns we want to. So …
Why not have some fun with it?
And: look: no one’s a plural.
If the problem is the evolution of the language, let’s rewind it and reevolve it. Old English has a gender neutral case. And since no one’s spoken Old English in like ten thousand years, whatever association with thingness that case might have is no longer around: no associations exist in our modern minds with the vocab and grammar of Old English.
Accordingly, ladies, gentlemen, and esteemed nehads (“nay hades” = something like “no genders” in Old English, I think), I present to you the gender nonspecifics:
Nominative and accusative: hit
Genitive / Dative: his / him
Plural: hīe (accusative) / heora (genitive) / him (accusative)
OK! I see that. Turns out the singular genitive and dative and the plural accusative are all identical with the current masculine forms of those case. And the nominative and accusative case are pretty close to “it”, which we’d wanted to avoid.
We tweak it. Who’s to say how that aspect of the language would have evolved since the eleventh century?
Nominative and accusative: het
Genitive / Dative: hes / hem
Plural: hīe (accusative) / heora (genitive) / hem (accusative)
Or for plural, we can just stick to they, their, and them. Let’s do that.
Examples: Instead of that boy or that girl, we say that nehad
Examples: Instead of She went to the store, we say Het went to the store.
Examples: Instead of The Truth occurred to her, we say The Truth occurred to het.
Examples: Instead of I gave it to her, we say I gave it to hem.
Examples: And we don’t need to change “They went to the corner store.”
There we go!
It’s perfect. It is singular like people really are, without forcing one to identify with a specific gender, which is too tight a squeeze for some people.
I’ve done it!
Imagine what I could accomplish sober!
Tim Tom Trombone, a man from before / a good sport now
A Concerned Afterward:
Once again, Mr Trombone has blown town; he has slid out of sight; whatever pun you choose: he’s not here anymore, once more leaving us more careful thinkers to mop up his mess.
Three major errors leap to mind:
- In English, “it” is identical in nominative, accusative, and dative cases; but both “he” and “she” change in the accusative/dative case (“him”; “her”). Accordingly, “het” should become “hem” in both the accusative and dative cases (as opposed to remaining “het” in the accusative and changing to “hem” only in the dative–as Mr Trombone’s slapdash would have it).
- “nehad” is unnecessarily left with an unphonetic spelling. If we’re reevolving the language, why not make it easy to read? Thus: “neyhayd” to capture the long vowel sounds without losing the archaic luster of an Old-English loan-word.
- “neyhayd” or “no gender”, should replace not boy/girl, but man/woman. As the Old English diminutive suffix “oc / uc” evolved into “ock” (with the original sense still preserved in “hillock”), the only logical course is to replace “boy/girl” with “neyhaydock”.
Here, then, is our improved name tag:
Hello, my name is Puddintane.
My gender preference is neyhayd.
My preferred pronouns are:
Nominative: het / Accusative: hem / Dative: hem / Genitive: hes
Plurals: they / them / their.
Perhaps two name tags will be needed.
Some will argue that since many people lack a solid grasp of the theory and practice of grammar, the above conventions are too confusing. But such arguments are clearly madness, and their supporters either crazed or (what’s worse) depraved: One may debate the relative importance of adding a gender nonspecific singular pronoun to the language, but surely none will question the usefulness of increasing grammatical awareness throughout the English-speaking world.
Signed: Society of Concerned Linguistics, Trombone Watchdog Chapter, “40 PHDs trying to keep one wily Mr in check!”