[lit-ideas] Re: grades & kleenex

  • From: Harold Hungerford <hh@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Thu, 6 May 2004 19:37:23 -0700

What you're not understanding is that "they" is being used as a 
replacement for "he" or "she" as a third person singular, in an attempt 
to avoid the implicit sex bias of "he" (usually) or the clumsiness of 
"he or she." It has become de facto a third person singular in certain 
contexts, usually when an "every" is in the neighborhood. Example: 
"Every child went out to play. Then they came back in . . ." or 
"Everyone should get out their kleenex now."

Once upon a time "you" referred only to two or more persons. Once upon 
a time there was a pronoun "wit" which referred to two, and only two, 
persons. Once upon a time (Chaucer's) the standard object case form of 
"they" was "hem" and the possessive was "her," which also functioned as 
the possessive of "she." Once upon a time (Chaucer's again) the 
nominative case of today's "it" was "hit" in standard upper-class 
English. The pronoun system in English has changed with glacial 
slowness, but it has changed despite the efforts of pedants.

Harold Hungerford
Professor Emeritus of English
Could you provide an example of the acceptable use [of "they"] you have 
in mind?

What is he/she if not third person singular?  And if it is replaced in a
second iteration in a sentence with "they," I would say there is a 
of agreement.  What am I not understanding?

David Ritchie
Portland, Oregon

Heureux qui, comme Ulysse, a fait un beau voyage . . .
(Joachim du Bellay, 1522-1560)

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