Sunday, January 05, 2003

The Boston Globe features this article on pronouns:
AMONG THE YAWNING GAPS in the English lexicon, we noted in passing last month, is a set of singular "common-sex pronouns" - words that would replace the pairs he/she, him/her, his/hers with a neater neuter. Into that breach leaps reader Adele Wick with a zippy (or xippy) suggestion for new pronouns: Xe(pronounced as in Xerox) would replace he and she, xem would mean him or her, and xers his or hers.

Why the x? "Willing to belabor the obvious, I note that x represents both the sex chromosome males and females share and the unknown in algebra and calculus," Wick writes. If xe were to replace she and he, a biographer could more gracefully write up the life story of one who's crossed gender; a friend could more safely wax enthusiastic about a bald baby dressed in yellow or green and named Courtney, Spencer, Dakota, or Morgan." And, of course, we could write "Every doctor must renew xer license," presumably to the satisfaction of those who find his inaccurate and sexist, his or her cumbersome, and their ungrammatical.

But as many a would-be reformer has discovered, language does not always abhor a vacuum; ours has been muddling along without a unisex third-person singular pronoun for a long time.

Says who? I can think of a unisex, third-person, singular pronoun that has existed in English from time immemorial: It. There's no need to experiment with ridiculosities like "Xe." If a non-sexual pronoun is so desperately desired, "it" should serve perfectly well.


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