By John E. McIntyre
The Baltimore Sun
5:27 PM EST, January 20, 2013
The Atlantic permits someone named Jen Doll to write on language and usage, and Ms. Doll has Views on singular they.
Those views are not favorable. Examples of singular they "make me cringe." Further, "The singular they is ear-hurting, eye-burning, soul-ravaging, mind-numbing syntactic folly. Stop the singular they. Stop it now."
To be fair, Ms. Doll makes a gesture of addressing the arguments for they as the missing epicene pronoun in English. In particular, she addresses a largely sensible discussion at The Economist's Johnson where Robert Lane Greene makes quite a sensible case before deferring to The Economist's quailing at the Peeververein.
But this getsure is no more than a gesture. Ms. Doll acknowledges that there is an argument for singular they without actually addressing the argument. Because, you see, she doesn't like it, and from that verdict there is no appeal. To reason. To precedent. To empirical evidence. All that is irrelevant.
I have written about the merits of singular they. so has Tom Chivers at The Telegraph. So has Motivated Grammar. So have Patricia T. O'Connor and Stewart Kellerman. So has Geoffrey Pullum. Grammar Girl says that singular they is inevitable.
None of this cuts any ice with Jen Doll. Singular they exhibits "laziness," as, you know, in the slack prose of Jane Austen and others.
This is what is maddening about discussions of language. You can consult empirical evidence,viz., that singular they has been used by centuries of reputable writers in published prose, that it is the most sensible and convenient expedient for the lack otherwise of an epicene pronoun, that it is in fact being used as such by multitudes every day without generating confusion or exciting objection. None of that counts, because Jen Doll doesn't like it much.
And because Jen Doll and the remaining devotees of schoolroom superstitions about language get platforms in The Atlantic and other places to proclaim their uninformed views and treat their idiosyncratic preferences as the laws of nature, reputable publications defer to nonsense.
Mustn't tick off the Jen Dolls.
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