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November 20, 2006

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It's just something each of us has to figure out for theirselves?

(I avoid singular-their because sooner or later you paint yourself into a corner and have to use something like "themselves" when it not only makes no sense but also draws attention to itself.)

Nancy,
"someone" is singular and has always been singular, but "they" can refer to singular antecedents. This has been part of English for 500 years.

Merriam-Webster’s Concise Dictionary of English Usage says “[uses of they with singular antecedents] are uses following a normal pattern in English that was established four centuries before the 18th-century grammarians invented the solecism. The plural pronoun is one solution devised by native speakers of English to a grammaticl problem inherent in that language - and it is by no means the worst solution.”

John--So if singular "they" is "by no means the worst solution," what is the worst solution? And, parenthetically, I don't mind (much) if people want to use "someone/they" in conversation, but it's irksome to see it in a 96-point-type ad headline.

MWCDEU doesn't explicitly say what the worst solution is, but I think it would be using "him" when it sounded silly, eg:

She and Louis had a game - who could find the ugliest photograph of himself - Joseph Lash, in Reader's Digest

Or maybe using "him or her/he or she" when it sounded silly or awkward.

Hey, man, I think we are looking for an answer to the wrong problem. He, man, and all that ARE gender free. Females have special words to distinguish them (she, woman, etc). It's males that need new terms if they want to be distinguished. As a suggestion, put g' in front of any gender free term to refer to a male - so we have g'he, g'man, etc. There are chairmen (either), chairg'men (male), and chairwomen (female). It's all so simple.

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