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You Don't Say
John E. McIntyre writes about language, usage, journalism & arbitrarily chosen subjects.
NewsYou Don't Say

You already swallowed "your" as an epicene pronoun

Last week when I set out to tweak the Gannett newspapers on their manifest effort to reduce or eliminate editing (succeeding beyond my fondest hopes), the headline of the post, "Everyone their own editor," drew attention. 

Someone actually wrote to say that it should have been "Everyone his own editor." So there are still out there those for whom the Y chromosome is the be-all and end-all of English grammar and usage.

Even more alarming is the prospect that they still may be instructing the impressionable young. Let me say something now to parents who develop the fantods over the fear that their children are being exposed to licentiousness in the books assigned in English class or in sex ed classes: The young discover sexual license independently; bogus rules of English usage come from instruction.

Some, no doubt, would have preferred the even-handed but clunky "Everyone his or her own editor," or the even clunkier "Everyone his/her own editor."

This situation is one in which the usual dodge taught in the classroom, the resort to the plural, would not have worked. "All people their own editors" is virtually devoid of meaning. The point of the article is that each writer, each one, alone, increasingly takes on full responsibility for editing the work.

Thus "Everyone their own editor," using their in a sense sanctioned by reputable published writers for centuries, is the apt title. 

I even linked to Gabe Doyle's excellent post from 2009, "Singular 'they' and the many reasons why it's correct," at Motivated Grammar. I suspect that few readers clicked on the link, and that some who did simply ignored the evidence. Among the peeververein, ignoring the evidence about English grammar and usage is the fallback strategy. 

As the headline of this post points out, no one objects to using your rather than thy with singulars. They remains the most commonly resorted-to remedy for the lack of the epicene third-person pronoun in English, and far superior to the multitude of failed substitutes

It is not going away. Rather, it is increasingly acceptable in common speech and journalism, and acceptance in formal English is probably not that far off. Find something else to whinge about. 

 

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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