Monday, April 28, 2014

A new proposal for gender-neutral language

Should the English language add new words to avoid gender-biased pronouns?  That suggestion keeps cropping up, as evidenced in Dennis Baron’s book Grammar and Gender, which catalogues such neologisms dating back the year 1850. Now South Dakota’s Charles Marshall Thatcher proposes to add to the list. In an article titled What Is “Eet”? A Proposal to Add a Series of Referent-Inclusive Third Person Singular Pronouns and Possessive Adjectives to the English Language for Use in Legal Drafting, Thatcher does indeed suggest the word eet, which would replace he, she, or it to refer to a person of unspecified sex. Other new pronouns would include ee, herim, hermit, and herimself. Example: “The statute applies to herim.” 

Such neologisms have not caught on so far, and with good reason. They cause a reader to stumble, and some of them are, as William Safire once said, “unspeakable.” And there are more graceful ways to avoid biased pronouns, as I pointed out in my article on gender-neutral language in the federal courts. Two of the most common ones are changing a noun to the plural so a plural pronoun fits (“Lawyers should file their briefs on time”) or recasting the sentence (“Briefs should be filed on time.”)  

My answer to Thatcher’s question is “Eet is not a word and should not become one.”


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