Gender-neutral Pronouns for h2g2

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It's occurred to me, in posting in Peer Review to newbies whose gender I don't know, that what we really need - especially here on h2g2 - is a gender-neutral third-person pronoun. It's all very well to say 'their', but that's just so ungrammatical to me that it grates on the ears like the cliche nails on the chalkboard. And there's no way to make one Researcher plural so that 'their' is suddenly grammatical. So what do we do?

Well, we could use one of the several ideas currently in circulation. Some people think we should adapt 'it' to mean someone or something, be it masculine, feminine or neuter. Though that could be a bit odd. I'd always feel like I was belittling the person I was talking to, and addressing them (it!) like an infant or a pet. No, we need a more viable solution. We could say s/he; him/her. And while this may work fine while explaining something abstractly, it simply won't do when actually trying to speak to or about someone! I mean, it blantantly reveals the fact that you have no earthly idea what the person's gender is!

We could use one of the constructions that's completely made-up. I read somewhere that people have suggested odd words like 'hir' or 'hem' that are not quite she or he. Well, brilliant, let's all sound like something out of Chaucer. I don't mean to be a problem, begging for a new idea and then vetoing every one that comes to mind, but it just doesn't seem to me that any of these ideas that fundamentalist feminists1 and new-age idealists aren't really practical. And in an online community like this, where unless people actually tell you there's no way to discern their gender, we ought to come up with some practical way of talking to people.

We could refer to them by their names, or say 'this Researcher' or something like that - and while that could occasionally get a bit repetitive2 it starts to sound a viable solution. I've seen it successfully managed in places like Peer Review when there are a lot of us talking in third person about a person whom we don't know and whose gender we've got no idea about. But it still seems to me like we need something. I don't know about you, but I myself have committed the error of referring to a 'he' as a 'she', and it was incredibly embarrassing and an experiment I don't intend to repeat.

Of course, we could all use AlexAshman's helpful Gender Code, and then no one would ever be in any confusion as to what anyone's gender was. And while this is all very nice if you're an experienced Researcher and wise in the ways of h2g2, what are you going to do if you're a newbie and you've just arrived here and all of a sudden some odd person is referring to you as 'he', but you're really a 'she'? This is a travesty that must be corrected!

So, perhaps you, the community, wise in the ways of the world, can tell me what to do. Should we just try to avoid pronouns whenever we can? Should we bite the bullet, be ungrammatical, and use 'they'? Should we suddenly decide gender does not exist, and call everybody 'it', or 's/he'? Should we just throw a word-making party and invent something fun that sounds good? Or what? I leave this case in your capable hands.


02.06.05 Front Page

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1No offence meant to feminists, mind you!2Well, when you've got something like, 'Echo said that the sky is blue, didn't Echo?' you are going to start hearing an echo. Sorry. That wasn't really funny.

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