So are all the uses of Shakespeare acceptable today? How about Chaucer?I suspect that it does irritate the old prescriptivists, Rewboss, but a spade is a spade.
In the first quote we even have an old prescriptivist who has seen the light. Read on, Sire.
Using the plural pronoun to refer to a single person of unspecified gender is an old and honorable pattern in English, not a newfangled bit of degeneracy or a politically correct plot to avoid sexism (though it often serves the latter purpose). People who insist that “Everyone has brought his own lunch” is the only correct form do not reflect the usage of centuries of fine writers.
Singular "their" in Jane Austen and elsewhere: Anti-pedantry page
These files contain a list of over 75 occurrences of the words "they"/"their"/"them"/"themselves" referring to a singular antecedent with indefinite or generic meaning in Jane Austen's writings (mainly in her six novels), as well as further examples of singular "their" etc. from the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) and elsewhere. While your high-school English teacher may have told you not to use this construction, it actually dates back to at least the 14th century, and was used by the following authors (among others) in addition to Jane Austen: Geoffrey Chaucer, Edmund Spenser, William Shakespeare, the King James Bible, The Spectator, Jonathan Swift, Daniel Defoe, Frances Sheridan, Oliver Goldsmith, Henry Fielding, Maria Edgeworth, Percy Shelley, Lord Byron, William Makepeace Thackeray, Sir Walter Scott, George Eliot [Mary Anne Evans], Charles Dickens, Mrs. Gaskell, Anthony Trollope, John Ruskin, Robert Louis Stevenson, Walt Whitman, George Bernard Shaw, Lewis Carroll, Oscar Wilde, Rudyard Kipling, H. G. Wells, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Edith Wharton, W. H. Auden, Lord Dunsany, George Orwell, and C. S. Lewis.
Singular "their" etc., was an accepted part of the English language before the 18th-century grammarians started making arbitrary judgements as to what is "good English" and "bad English", based on a kind of pseudo-"logic" deduced from the Latin language, that has nothing whatever to do with English. (See the 1975 journal article by Anne Bodine in the bibliography.) And even after the old-line grammarians put it under their ban, this anathematized singular "their" construction never stopped being used by English-speakers, both orally and by serious literary writers. So it's time for anyone who still thinks that singular "their" is so-called "bad grammar" to get rid of their prejudices and pedantry!
This is an example of a descrptivist saying that the language can never change. Sort of a role reversal.
- For Teachers