Those pesky personal pronouns

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The first time I was asked for my pronouns, I couldn’t resist the urge to be flip. I wrote: “As my grandfather used to say, call me anything but don’t call me late for dinner.”

The pronoun problem started about 20 years ago, when people started using the linguistic term “gender” as a gentler word for “sex,” which is biological. Until then, one determined the other.

Linguistically, the third-person singular pronoun is one of the rare examples of gender in the English language. Latin is more complicated. All nouns and their modifiers have strictly assigned gender, including neuter for some nouns.

In English, we have neuter only in the third person singular, he/she/it. Oddly, third person is the least important, and most controlling, of all pronouns. It’s what people use when talking about other people. It’s what they use to control you, to make you nameless. In fact, the third person plural is they/them, as in us vs. them.

So the simplest solution to avoid the whole pronoun identity problem is to avoid the third person singular entirely. Each person has a name. Use it. Robin is not he or she, and certainly not it or the plural they. Robin is simply Robin. It’s easier than remembering a new rule for each person.

Personally, I’m more interested in talking with people than about them, so I would rather use the second person—you—the same in both singular and plural. (Except for y’all who use y’all.)

As a society, though, the most important personal pronoun and possessive is first person plural—we, us, and our. The least interesting is first person singular—I, me, mine.

Maybe it’s time to think in first person plural rather than third person at all.

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