Third person singular pronoun
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English is having a serious problem with the term “he”. I have a proposed solution. Use “e” to mean “he or she”.
When I was a kid, my teachers told me that the term “he” was gender-neutral; that he meant male or female, and she was female only. Yet I eventually learned that what they had taught me wasn’t true; the word he often suggested male. What to do?
(By the way, did you notice how I avoided indicating the gender of my teacher? I did it by referring not to the teacher who taught me that, but to my teachers, even though there was only one. Then I was able to use the gender-neutral “they” as the pronoun. This would not have worked in French, since the plural pronouns still have genders. In fact the teacher was female, but since I was talking about a mistake she made, I purposefully did not want to indicate that. Of course, now I have… This example shows the awkwardness we endure by not having a neutral word.)
Here’s an example of the problem: “According to a witness, the criminal ran down the street. Then he apparently ran into the subway. That’s how he escaped.” But what if the witness didn’t specify the gender? Is it proper to assume the criminal was male?
One solution that many people adopt is to purposefully use the word “she” in places where many would commonly use “he”. This is done to refer to God, to refer to someone who might solve the unification problem in physics, etc. It doesn’t work so well for my problematic sentence which, using this rule, would read: “According to a witness, the criminal ran down the street. Then she apparently ran into the subway. That’s how she escaped.” But the witness didn’t specify the sex.
Another solution: “According to a witness, the criminal ran down the street, into the subway, and by doing that, escaped.” Not too bad, but it forced me to write using longer sentences, and it might not work if the described action continued.
One common solution, one I use myself, is to avoid using pronouns: “According to a witness, the criminal ran down the street. Then the criminal apparently ran into the subway. That’s how the person who committed the crime escaped.” That’s pretty awkward.
Another common solution: “According to a witness, the criminal ran down the street. Then he or she apparently ran into the subway. That’s how he or she escaped.” That’s also very awkward, but you see it used a lot.
Another common solution: “According to a witness, the criminal ran down the street. Then they apparently ran into the subway. That’s how they escaped.” Using the word “they” for a singular person is becoming common. Most experts would say that doing so is improper use of language, but in fact language is always growing and changing, and if enough people use the word “they” in this manner, the Oxford English Dictionary, which is based on common usage, will certify the word “they” as sometimes singular.
I don’t like any of these solutions. We have a need for a short memorable word to mean “he or she”. As I mentioned earlier, I propose we create a new word e to mean “he or she”. Remarkably, the letter “e” is never used by itself as a word. It is available!
Here’s the new version: “According to a witness, the criminal ran down the street. Then e apparently ran into the subway. That’s how e escaped.”
(The only problem would be in the UK where “he” is sometimes pronounced as “e”. Let them find their own solution.)
I just read the “sub” question and note that the word “ze” is proposed. Actually, that’s not bad. Maybe we should try both “ze” and “e” and see which one catches on.
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Third person singular pronoun
Reference: Richard Muller, ( Professor of Physics | University of California, Berkeley, author ” Now, The Physics of Time” ). ” “Should one use “he” or “she” for the generic third-person pronoun?” originally appeared on Quora, the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.