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Thursday, May 23. 2013
A language change whose time has come
As for coyotes, he seems to think they're a cute, cuddly bunch, but a Google search proves otherwise:
Well, this menace to society is back in the news, again preaching his particular brand of anarchy, this time against the very foundation of our language, and thus society, itself:
I've been using "they" in this regard for over 20 years.
In fact, you could even say that the subject is a part of blog history. As I note in my bio, I was 'blogging' on a daily basis on my BBS a decade before the word was coined. In one of the first pages I wrote for the board, the 'Welcome' page, I told everyone that they'd see two variations from standard English in my articles; using 'they' for 'he or she' and putting punctuation outside of quote marks. (I'll cover the latter some other time.) So it could be said that one of the first blogs in history mentioned this very subject. Twenty-two years ago.
Here's the famed James Taranto quoting other people in his daily column. James is a stickler for following the rules.
What this is really saying is, Broken is okay. I'm sure James and associated sticklers would like to fix every other broken thing on the planet, but for some reason they happily exclude this one obvious blow-it from their agenda. The question for James is, Are you planning on doing this for the rest of time eternal?
Here's the bottom line:
They does not necessarily equal plural. And I can semi-prove it.
My very first week in the South, I was alone in a diner. The waitress walked up and asked, "How y'all doin' today?" The exact same thing happened at a different diner a few days later.
That's when I realized that y'all doesn't necessarily equal 'plural', and 'they', in this context, is no different. To refine it even further, you could say that 'he or she' is the they, because more than one person is involved.
Coyote got it exactly right. Unlike any other language on the planet, English was built; constructed; formed from a collage of many languages, even varying forms of English, itself, and is thus designed to change with the times as the building process continues. While a total bitch for the outsider to learn, we who are fluent in it are offered an immense, descriptive vocabulary that no other language comes close to. In many, if not most languages, the exact meaning of a spoken word is based upon inflection. In English, we have a whole different word for every single variation, and then we still have inflection for the nuance.
Put another way, using 'they' for a singular person might feel a little awkward, but [sic]'ing every use of it for the rest of time eternal sounds a lot more awkward.
Posted by Dr. Mercury in The Culture, "Culture," Pop Culture and Recreation at 12:00 | Comments (33) | Trackbacks (0)
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Hear, hear! I agree 100%, Doc. I've been using 'they' in this regard for about five years or so. Like the scurrilous Coyote, I got tired of the apparent 'sexism' of just using 'he' and the awkwardness of using 'he or she' and finally gave up and started using the only word we have left.
And the point you made about "y'all" was spot on. If "you all" can be singular, then certainly other 'plural' words can be as well.
A few years ago I wrote and edited articles for an online company e-zine. I started using 'they' for 'he or she' and the boss immediately asked me what the hell I was doing. I told him I'd get back to him, then spent the next week collecting about 50 examples, just like your examples up above (but without the [sic]s), with many of them coming from fairly prestigious sites and writers. I also added some other arguments, like "since two people are involved with the 'he or she', it thus becomes a 'they'." I just wish I'd known about the "y'all"!
He read the paper in his office, walked over to mine, dropped the print-out on my desk and said, "Green light, buddy." He said while it "went against the editorial grain," and given so very few options, that 'they' really did beat out the incorrect-half-the-time, bordering-on-sexist 'he' and the ever-so-clunky 'he or she', 'him or her'. A 'lesser of evils,' if you will. He basically just realized that if so many professional people are already using it, then it can't be 'wrong' by today's editorial standards.
Evolution never sleeps.
That's true with languages, too. Or at least ours.
I mentioned 'evolution never sleeps' at the end of this page.
And that was a fun story. Eventually the Old School will either die off or come around. Can't fight progress.
I'm one of those kids whose mom was an English teacher, so I'm fairly aware of the rules. I write somewhere between about 500 and 1,000 words a day on a blog, mainly dealing with our favorite topic, cooking. I quickly realized that 'he' didn't work on a site whose membership is 90% female. And I hate using "he or she" because it looks like someone's trying too hard to be politically correct.
It's been 'they' ever since. Like John said up above, it may be a 'lesser of evils,' but it's still the best thing going.
Doc -- I'm male, 37. I took your advice about a year ago and whipped up a family blog. It's been a barrel of laughs and has really kept the family together. We're literally scattered across the country, from Maine to Wyoming to Alaska to Hawaii. But read about something funny that happened to one of the clan that day or see some recent pictures or video of their kids/kittens/puppies playing in the back yard, and it feels like they're right next door. That was a very inspirational post and you should re-post it sometime.
Like Ginny, the problem is that about 80% of the family is female, including my three sisters and a whole barrelful of female cousins and aunts. One of the first times I used the generic "he", one of my cousins kiddingly yelled "Sexist!!!"
Like Ginny, it's been "they" ever since. :-)
You and Gin bring up an interesting point I hadn't considered. Know your audience. Using 'they' eliminates that sometimes-vital requirement.
Just add it to the list.
That is the problem with coyotes. You think they completely spent but it turns out they are just dogging it.
see also: http://www.coyoteblog.com/coyote_blog/2013/05/pronouns-quotation-marks-and-punctuation-oh-my.html
wherein I see your "they" and quotation marks and raise you an Oxford comma
Hey, that's two blog posts in a row where you haven't threatened a law suit!
The indefinite "they" has been used in the UK (in formal language) all my life (50+) years at least.
The one I can't fathom is the US usage of "one".
If I have it correctly, "one" is only used in the first instance:
"if one felt thirsty, he might ask for a drink of water" is correct usage in the US.
Not so in the UK, where once "one" is deployed, its use is continued:
"if one felt thirsty, one might ask for a drink of water".
Have I got this distinction right and, if so, any ideas when it arose?
Well, my first thought is that it's simply not good English to repeat a word in a sentence. That's why they invented the word 'repetitive', so you won't do it. It's more of a 'clunky' thing than a 'redundant' thing, but it's a bit of both.
Just wanted to remind everyone that the plural for "y'all" is "All Y'all".
Unlike any other language on the planet, English was built;
Sadly, no. Esperanto, Interlingua and Klingon are constructed languages and are in common use. In fact, there is a whole area of social science called Conlang (short for Constructed Language) which attempts to find a language, or lingua franca for the entire world.
Little known factoid: There is another conlang called Talossan which belongs to a small micro island in Indonesia and has gained some wide spread acceptance.
Last, and certainly not least, there is the International Auxiliary Language Association, and Lojban.
Aren't you glad you asked?
I meant official language. And you forgot Ebonics. :)
1 - You did not specify "official" language - you stated categorically that English was the only manufactured (or
"built") language which is not true.
2 - I wasn't going to point this out as it might have been seen as pedantic, but English is not a manufactured or "built" language. It is an adaptive language meaning that English is capable of adapting and assimilating of other languages resulting in huge and sometimes unwieldy vocabulary with odd pronunciations and sometimes contradictory meanings depending on usage. For example, two, to, too all pronounced the same, but used differently in written form.
3 - The roots of English are German (Proto-German to be exact) influenced by Latin,. Upper Norse, Frisson and a couple of other odds and ends languages in addition to the phenomena of something called semantic drift created "English" as we know it - meaning that it is a language that is adaptable, easily understood semantically, capable of assimilation (although it is not unique in this regard) and broadly spoken as a result of the economic fire power of the United Kingdom and the United States and not at all "manufactured" or "built".
So there - neener, neener, neener....
I don't actually HAVE to say OFFICIALLY to have it implied. Your unreasonable pedanticness is really unbecoming.
I agree, Doc. Tom, why don't you say something fucking upbeat for once in your life.
Well, now you know why Tom doesn't blog here, even though he has the password. We'd turn around and do the same thing to him that he does to us.
And who'd want that?
#188.8.131.52.1 Dr. Mercury (Link) on 2013-05-23 15:46 (Reply)
Now Doc, Sugar, bless your heart, surely you know the plural of "y'all" is "all y'all".
The waitress anecdote sounds odd. I have never heard "y'all" directed at an individual, unless that individual stood for a group or some greater entity.
Ex.: Asking a store proprietor, "What time y'all open today?"
I still hear it occasionally.
As for the 'full plural', allow me to clear things up:
"These biscuits is for y'all, y'all!"
That means "everybody".
It's easier when you live here.
Born in Massachusetts, live in Chicago. Started work for a company based out of Arkansas. Sat in on a conference call where everyone else on the call was down in Arkansas. After most of the meeting was over someone asked "Ron on the phone, do y'all have any questions?"
Yes, I do. What is the difference between "y'all" and "all y'all"?
Gales of laughter followed. No one actually answered the question, though.
I am exhausted with English's lack of a third person singular gender-neutral pronoun and hate saying "he or she."
The common English pronoun you are apparently unfamiliar with is "one," used in the same way the French use the word "on." Once one uses it, one gets used to saying and writing it.
You're missing something. I use 'one' all of the time. It's not the same usage as 'he or she'.
I agree with LS on #11 that using "y'all" for a single person is not normal usage in the South. If that plural construction were used for a singular second person, it would probably be to allow the speaker to sound friendly without seeming too friendly.
For example, it's very common in Tennessee for someone, when ending a conversation and preparing to leave, to say, "We'll see you later." In that case "we" really means "I." By positing a rhetorical group of persons around the first or second person of a conversation, the speaker diffuses attention and thus intimacy--in other words, close but not too close.
Though I am a stickler for grammar, I've never understood putting the ending punctuation within closing quotes, unless the ending punctuation is a part of the quote. Keep up the good blogging.
Precisely. The point is that there has to be one, singular way in which we can say "Do or write or say exactly what's in between these two marks." A pair of characters that's inviolate; whose in between cannot be violated by any other character. The written language needs one such character, and quote marks are the only thing that will suffice.
A good example of the one exception you noted is up above. Everything else, though, including all commas, is outside.
Fun post, Doc.
Read a blog post 2-3 years ago about the usage of thee and thou. As I recall, it suggested that y'all arose to fill the void, but don't hold me to that dim recollection.
Now, there's a term I haven't seen or heard for a very long time. I, too, was once a sysop. Had an IBM XT, filled up the 10 MB drive with DOS 2.0 and all the software I was using and still had 5 MB left over, so I started up a BBS. I ran RBBS-PC for about 3 years. Even had 2 phone lines so a whole 2 people could use it simultaneously.
Outstanding! That was a wonderful era, when the SysOp was god. I think I used RBBS, too, or at least the name rings a distant bell. And the double phone lines was double-cool on your part. I had a whopping three at the board's zenith. Good times, good times.
I do my share of writing, and studiously avoid pronoun-antecedent disagreement. Yet I use "they" frequently. I have yet to encounter a situation in which I couldn't change the antecedent to a plural, thereby making "they" correct. Easy peasy lemon squeezy!