Thursday, January 21, 2010

Gender Neutrality in English

If you're not an English nerd, you may not have noticed that English does not have a gender neutral third person singular. In other words, we have "he" and "she," but no hermaphroditic third option. This makes it difficult to explain hypothetical situations. For instance: When the owner of this car gets here, I'm going to give him or her a piece of my mind. See what I mean?

Since the beginning of the English Language, the rule was thus: If you don't know, use the masculine (he). Feminists weren't fans of automatically deferring to the masculine for reasons I will let you figure out. Some people (mostly men) wondered why the womenists got their plain comfortable white panties in a twist over this and decided it was easier to say he. This usage was eventually labeled sexist by women and marketers.

The politically correct pundits fired back with their gender-neutral usage: they or them. When the owner of this car gets here, I'm going to give them a piece of my mind. Well there's only one owner so some of you might be yelling at the top of your English nerd lungs, "Hey! That's plural, not singular!" Right you are, grammar Nazi. They is an incorrect substitution for he or she. Somewhere along the line, grammar watchdogs tried to rid the world of the incorrect use of they by using the clunky and awkward he/she, (s)he, or the more common word-count-inflating he or she. This seemed to solve the logistic problems but destroyed any sense of flow or poetry.

This would not do. Some sensitive soul wearing a beret and sporting a goatee couldn't have his words polluted by slashes and parentheses. And that extra 'or' really screws up his rhythm. He decided to use one. As in, One walked to the store. This chin-haired hipcat almost solved the problem, but didn't notice how confusing it could become. For example: If one were to walk over to the store and speak to the gender-neutral clerk, one would find that one dollar was not enough for more than one soda. There are much worse sentences out there, but you get the idea.

Enter me. Because I am a ridiculous English Nerd, Grammar Nazi, a Feminist, and an occasional creative writer complete with goatee, I believe that I, in my comprehensive awesomeness, should designate the ultimate third person singular. We should use 'e. Example: The anonymous complainer wrote that 'e will soon file charges. It may look like I'm writing he with a Cockney dialect, but I can overlook it if you can. By using an apostrophe-e, we follow all proper rules of English while remaining gender neutral. The apostrophe replaces the "sh" or the "h" from she and he, or both. It doesn't have the jarring effect that slashes or parentheses within a word have on a reader. It's not grammatically incorrect or stupid like using "they." (For the record, if you use 'they' for third person singular, follow this link).

Some of you may be asking yourselves, what about the third person singular possessive? Well, actually, you're probably not (for non-English nerds, I'm talking about him and her). Why don't we just do what we always do with possessives? Put an apostrophe-s at the end. 'e's. Granted, it's not as pretty, but it's better than what we have, which is nothing.

Another problem, another problem solved. Go me.


  1. So how do you pronounce this new ummm word/conjunction (can we call it a conjuction, it's putting 2 words into one but is shorter than both somehow)? I thought that we were supposed to use the word it in this case? It just kind of dehumanizes the subject so no one wants to use it this way.


  2. Brain-
    Yeah, there are a few unwritten rules about "it." We can use it for objects and animals, but not so much for people (although some people do so with babies anyway). As far as how to pronounce the contraction 'e's, it would be like saying "ease."