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  • Gender conceal: Did you know that pronouns can also hide someone's gender?

    Gender reveals have been exploding in the news recently, but there are also a growing number of gender conceals—using a pronoun to hide someone’s gender. Historically, two English pronouns have been used to mask a person’s gender: it and they. But so far the definitions of it and they don’t include the gender conceal.

    First let’s look at they. The Oxford English Dictionary lists three senses for singular they: 

    • referring collectively to members of a group (everyone, everybody)
    • referring to an individual generically or indefinitely (someone, a person, the student)
    • referring to someone who is nonbinary or gender-nonconforming (Sam Smith’s pronouns are they and them).

    I think it’s time to add a fourth sense:

    • referring to someone whose gender needs to be concealed (the whistleblower…they).
  • Grammar-shaming Trump

    Donald Trump is torturing the English language. Says New York Times columnist Frank Bruni, the president “is as inept at English as he is at governing,” adding, “He’s oxymoronic: a nativist who can’t really speak his native tongue.” What got Bruni riled up was not just the nonstop alt-right ravings, but also Trump’s constant misspellings, his oddball capitalization and bizarre punctuation, and his word-manglings like hamberder and covfefe. 

    Berating someone for making language mistakes is called "grammar shaming." Grammar shaming ordinary people doesn’t work: their English still won't meet your expectations and they'll resent your superior attitude. And there’s no point grammar shaming Trump because he’s incapable of feeling shame....

  • Teachers' pronouns

    I’m a teacher; my pronoun is _______.

    If you answered, My pronoun is they, you’ve done nothing wrong. Yes, teachers are expected to model good grammar as well as teach it—sometimes the job depends on it—but no matter what you’ve been told before, singular they is grammatically correct, and the American Psychological Society’s influential Publication Manual (7e) is the latest authority to agree. The APA manual stresses correct grammar in writing, and it approves the use of they, them, their, themselves, and even themself, when an individual’s pronouns are unknown or irrelevant.

    Teachers have a reputation for stressing grammatical correctness, but the last time the National Education Association had a style manual, back in 1974, it didn’t even consider singular they as an option. At the time, Mildred Fenner, editor of Today’s Education, reported that for many years the NEA journal used generic she for teachers because most teachers were women. But in the 1960s men began to complain that expressions like the teacher . . . she were responsible for teachers’ poor public image and their low salaries. One man objected at an NEA meeting that generic she was both bad English and a bad look for the profession. . . .

  • Pronouns and the law

    A Virginia teacher was fired for refusing to use a transgender student’s pronouns. Now the teacher, Peter Vlaming, is suing his former school for violating his First Amendment rights. Does he have a case?

  • The Song of Singular they

    When the singer Sam Smith announced on Instagram that their pronouns were they, them—which got more than half a million likes in less than a day—the Oscar and Grammy winner acknowledged “there will be many mistakes and mis gendering but all I ask is you please please try.”

    Smith was correct that there would be some misgendering. In reporting the story, CNN, the BBC, and the Guardian all referred to Smith as “they,” but over the course of a 5-sentence story the Associated Press called Smith “he” and “his” seven times.

     

  • Can a Swedish pronoun cure sexism?

    Can a coined gender-neutral pronoun reduce sexism? A recent study by Margit Tavits and Efrén O. Pérez published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences is optimistic that it can. According to Tavits and Pérez, now that the new, ungendered Swedish pronoun hen is official, Swedes will be more open to women in public life and more likely to support the rights of LGBT people. Only hen is not really official in any meaningful sense, and Sweden was already socially progressive decades before hen gained prominence.

  • Forget Rees-Mogg, Fowler, and Strunk & White, the arbiter of English today is Autocorrect

    Jacob Rees-Mogg, the foppish MP newly-appointed Leader of Britain’s House of Commons and sometimes called the Honourable Member for the Eighteenth Century, has issued a no-nonsense style guide for all writing done by his staff. Like any set of language do’s and don’ts, Rees-Mogg’s guide to utterly correct if somewhat outdated English, prepared some years ago for use in his Somerset constituency office and now to be used in the leader’s new office, includes rules to be followed and words to be banned.

    But all style guides are doomed to fail--except maybe Autocorrect, whose decisions prove difficult to reverse.

  • Commas don't kill people

    According to one legend, the Irish nationalist Sir Roger Casement, convicted of treason for supporting the Irish rebellion, was “hanged on a comma.” But that's wrong, the comma didn't kill him.

  • In the event of moon disaster, and other speeches our presidents never gave

    Two days before the first astronauts walked on the moon, H. R. "Watergate Bob" Haldeman directed Nixon speechwriter William Safire to come up with something for the president to say to the astronauts' widows. Just in case.

  • Google's Panopticon will make you a better person--just click to agree

    The Fourth Amendment protects your right to privacy, and the Fifth protects you from self-incrimination. That’s why the government has to get a warrant before it can snoop inside your house and warn you that you have the right to remain silent when questioned by police. But in the Fall of 2018 Google filed a patent application for a system that will monitor and evaluate everything you say and do and take corrective action if you stray from prescribed norms. All you have to do is click to agree and you’ve signed away your privacy and your protection against self-incrimination.

  • It's National Grammar Day, not National Pedant's Day

    National Grammar Day is celebrated every year on March 4th because it’s the only day of the year that is a complete sentence. Get it? March fourth/March forth? As they say on the internets, hahaha.

    But like many celebrations, National Grammar Day is founded on a myth. There is no Tooth Fairy, and most of the language we produce has nothing to do with complete sentences.

  • What do you call a retired professor?

    Emeritus? Emerita? Emeriti? Emeritae? Emeritx? Emerit? Maybe we need a gender-neutral word for retired academics?

  • NPR Poll: Americans don’t want to be politically correct. Tote bag, anyone?

    A new NPR-Marist poll finds that 52% of Americans don’t think the country should become more politically correct. Only 36% think that more political correctness is needed. The rest are either unsure or don’t care.

    That response is not surprising, since politically correct has always been a negative term. But two things about the NPR poll are bizarre. The first is that NPR, which has long promoted the idea that carrying its tote bag was the right-thinking, liberal thing to do, had replicated a 2010 Fox News poll, Fox News being the network that attacks anyone with a public radio tote bag as politically correct. The second is that the question NPR asked is long, confusing, and designed to produce a negative response:

    In general, are you in favor of the United States becoming more politically correct and like when people are being more sensitive in their comments about others or are you against the country becoming more politically correct and upset that there are too many things people can't say anymore?

  • In Silicon Valley’s version of the nanny state, the nannies are all offline

    As the techies of Silicon Valley rake in the profits from our inability to live without devices, they’re cutting their own children’s screen time down to zero to ensure that at least one group of privileged kids can spend quality time—with their nannies. And to make sure the nannies of Silicon Valley are off-line as well, parents are forcing them to agree not to text, call, or surf on the job. According to the restrictive contracts nannies have to sign, a logon in the presence of their charges—even when the nanny is responding to a parent’s text—may be grounds for dismissal. Which is odd considering that nannies, like the parents who hire them and almost everyone else in the digital age, rely on texts, email, and the internet to find work, arrange their schedules, and deal with everyday details and emergencies, both personal and work-related.

  • Countering the backlash against nonbinary pronouns

    Today, Oct. 17, is International Pronouns Day. You can follow my earlier pronoun posts on singular they here, on Winnie the Pooh and gender-neutral heesh, here, on the violence of pronouns, here, on some of the first invented pronouns here, and on the politics of generic he, here.

    In this post I want to look at the backlash against gender-neutral and nonbinary pronouns.

    Singular they and invented pronouns like ze, hir, E, and per highlight the need for respect and inclusion, so it’s not surprising that they generate backlash from the enemies of respect and inclusion. The objections to the pronouns are unconvincing, occasionally bizarre, and totally wrong.