Hated Words, Beloved Pronouns, and Political Bedfellows

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January 19, 2016 by libroshombre


Lake Superior State University has issued their list of “most hated words” for 2016. This is LSSU’s 41st annual list of “words people hate, invent, or annoyingly overuse,” with such past notable banishments as 1983’s “live audience,” 1998’s “my bad,” and last year’s “hack.” This year’s despised terms include “ ‘problematic’ … a corporate-academic weasel word,” and “so,” which nominators described as being overused as “the first word in the answer to ANY question,” and for emphasis, as in, “I am SO down with this wordlist!”

The University of Illinois chose “they,” another rather small expression, as their 2015 word of the year. The Illinoise.edu/blog article said, “A common-gender third person pronoun, singular ‘they’ has been popular inEnglish speech and writing for over 650 years. Although frequently classified by purists as ungrammatical, its use seems undiminished.” In addition, English-speakers are increasingly seeking “gender-neutral alternatives to pronouns that express the traditional male/female binary, turning to either to invented pronouns like ‘xe’ and ‘zie,’ or to that old standby, singular ‘they’.”

“Colleges add gender-free pronouns, alter policy,” was a News Miner headline from last fall that described how many universities are presenting their students with an array of possible gender-neutral pronouns. For example, the “State University of New York, one of the nation’s largest public college systems, announced that it’s working on a data-collection tool to let students choose among seven gender identities, including ‘trans-man, ‘questioning,’ and ‘genderqueer.’ Students applaud the changes.” However, most are opting for the usual “she, her, hers” and “he, him, his.” ” Of the 4,000 pronoun submissions at Harvard last fall, only “slightly more than one percent” chose something beside “he” and “she.”

There’s a bevy of alternatives. Instead of she, her, and hers, for example, there are “ze,” “hir,” “hirs,” “zhee,” “heer,” and “zheerz,” among others. Unsurprisingly, it’s an old fad. Using “E” instead of “he” or “she” has been proposed “independently in 1890, 1977, 1989, and 1992,” according to the University of Illinois article

In the south, “y’all” is the gender-free “they” alternative, but’s it’s relatively new. “ ‘They’ was Word of the Year back in 1365, when it first appeared in English as a gender-neutral English pronoun,” according to the University of Illinois article. The ‘gender-neutral” debate is tame compared to the vitriolic feelings generated by the most common pronoun error: reversing a pronoun’s subject and object forms, as in “my pal and me like comics” instead of the correct “my pal and I.” The botched pronouns that really annoy me happen when replacing personal pronouns with pronouns ending with –self, like the pompous athlete’s, “I knew it was all up to myself.”

“Pronouns can do all of the things that nouns can do,” the enthusiastic “English-Grammar-Revolution.com site points out. “They can be subjects, direct objects, indirect objects, object of the prepositions, and more. Heck the word ‘pronoun’ even has the word ‘noun’ in it!” Personal pronouns arouse strong emotions, but what about demonstrative pronouns (this, that, these, and those), indefinite pronouns (someone, everyone, both), and reflexive (“I’ll get the book myself”) and intensive proverbs (“He himself read the book”)? Not to mention interrogative pronouns (what, whom, which), and my favorite, the lovely possessive pronoun “our.”

Long ago I worked for Representative Dave Allred, one of the good guys in the Texas Legislature. Dave was a man of many talents, and a perfect memory. He successfully opposed a particularly odiferous piece of legislation by delaying it until a certain powerful and nasty senator, definitely one of the bad guys, could be convinced to oppose it when it reached that body. When I mentioned politics making strange bedfellows to Dave, he simply quoted FDR’s comment about Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza: “He may be a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch.” Sure enough, our SOB came through and a “bad old bill” went down in flames, as did its sponsor’s political aspirations.

The beautiful pronoun “our” comes from the Old English “ure, “of us,” for there are few more beautiful man-made creations that we all hold in common than “Our public library.”


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