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Question of the week…

The Question of the Week is from Diane, “How do I not offend guests who don’t want to use pronouns that we are used to using (they prefer gender neutral pronouns) It is very difficult for me not to say him or her and it feels very awkward to use they when it is only one person.”

As long as we’re talking grammar, I would like to take this opportunity to apologize to that wonderful first-year English teacher who put up with my shenanigans for a full year. I think she also managed to teach me a little grammar in spite of myself. But please don’t check too closely.

One day in Seventh grade she was diagraming sentences and I got bored. So I decided to time how long I could hold my leg out straight in front of me under my desk. We had one of those huge clocks with a sweep hand. After about ten minutes, she looked straight at me and said, “Perhaps we could concentrate on our thigh muscles later?” This of course is waaaaaay less embarrassing than when one of my best friends was waiting for the bell to ring so she could pass gas. Unfortunately the bell did not drown out her fart but highlighted it. Kind of like a cymbal crash. I never use first and last names without specific permission, so I will refrain from using that sainted teacher’s name. But if you’re out there and read this, I sure would love to hear from you.

According to the Oxford Dictionary: Pronouns are used in place of a noun that has already been mentioned or that is already known, often to avoid repeating the noun. For example:

Kate was tired so she went to bed.

Michael took the children with him.

Kieran’s face was close to mine.

That is a good idea.

Anything might happen.

So here’s my take; according to Oxford, Webster, and my seventh grade English teacher, the use of gender-specific pronouns is still acceptable. So I think it’s still OK to use them without feeling homophobic. As I have said before, it would be a much more hospitable nation if folks just assumed that the vast majority of people in the United States do not mean to offend with their speech or any other action. To correct someone for an accepted pattern of speech may actually do more harm to a cause than good, and bolster negative stereotypes. It might be better to concentrate efforts on bigger fish such as overt or covert discrimination.

Here’s an example; a very good friend of mine has a daughter with Down’s syndrome. This friend is also a Special Education teacher.  When our state’s legislature was considering a bill that would replace all references of “retarded” in state code with more politically correct terms, I asked how she felt about it. She said, “I don’t care what they call her, just fund the programs to help her!”

There is no question that some words need to work themselves out of our language. This has already happened in my lifetime and it’s a good thing. But I’m not sure pronouns are the place to start and I’m not sure shaming and embarrassing people is the way to do it.

Please feel free to agree or disagree with me in the comments section below.

Thank you for visiting.


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