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Thread: language crimes

  1. #1
    bianca is offline Senior Member
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    language crimes

    Sometimes I wonder about the silent 'e' in English words; its use just doesn't make sense. How logical is it, really?


    David Crystal, an eminent British linguist, shed some light on this particular issue.Here's what he says:
    When printing came to Britain in 1400, English was a merry old mess. Choices had to be made, and typesetters were often the ones making them. “If a line of type was a bit short on the page, well, just add an -e to a few words.” And if it was too long? Just “take out some e’s.”

    Crystal also says it’s time we embraced “they,” “them” and “their” as sexless singular pronouns (as in “Who lost their lunch?”). I can’t believe the above-mentioned pronouns are Ok to substitute he/she, her/him.. Of course, I could be wrong. One never knows, do one?

    Can you believe that?

    bianca
    Last edited by bianca; 05-Jul-2007 at 15:23.

  2. #2
    Englishlanguage is offline Member
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    Re: language crimes

    Quote Originally Posted by bianca View Post
    Crystal also says it’s time we embraced “they,” “them” and “their” as sexless singular pronouns (as in “Who lost their lunch?”). Much as I admire him, I can’t believe the singular “they” will become accepted in educated writing in our lifetime. Of course, I could be wrong. One never knows, do one?

    Can you believe that?

    bianca
    Do you mean they instead of he/she?Or instead of singular you?

  3. #3
    bianca is offline Senior Member
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    Re: language crimes

    yes, often we write his/her, he/she and so on when uncertain about whether it's a she or a he. So, write 'their' , 'they' instead... Far-fetched??
    Last edited by bianca; 14-Jun-2007 at 12:52.

  4. #4
    Englishlanguage is offline Member
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    Re: language crimes

    Quote Originally Posted by bianca View Post
    yes, often we write his/her, he/she and so on when uncertain about whether it's a she or a he. So, write 'their' , 'they' instead...
    Oh yes of course. Sorry for misunderstanding.
    Well it seems pretty odd. Do you know any other language in which a plural pronoun is used as a sexless singular one?
    English sometimes uses it when we are not certain about the sex.
    e.g.
    When somebody knocks at the door. "Who is it?"

  5. #5
    bianca is offline Senior Member
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    Re: language crimes

    I can't think of other languages right now.
    'It' is often considered to be a dummy pronoun. We have its equivalent in Swedish. But we don't have the equivalent for 'they', as a gender-neutral plural pronoun instead of the singular he or she.

    The advantage of using 'it' (or 'they' ) in the above examples could be that the language does not have to change as much. Or is it an advantage?

    One thing is sure: change is inevitable. The sillier “rules” of grammar have so far been just stupid misunderstandings.
    Last edited by bianca; 14-Jun-2007 at 13:26.

  6. #6
    Englishlanguage is offline Member
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    Re: language crimes

    Quote Originally Posted by bianca View Post
    The advantage of using 'it' (or 'they' ) in the above examples could be that the language does not have to change as much. Or is it an advantage?
    I don't believe this is always an advantage. In 17th century some Italian literary men tried to write a dictionary (Vocabolario della crusca) which they wanted to be strictly followed by writers. There were many objections since they harnessed language.

  7. #7
    Englishlanguage is offline Member
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    Re: language crimes

    Quote Originally Posted by bianca View Post
    One thing is sure: change is inevitable. The sillier “rules” of grammar have so far been just stupid misunderstandings.
    This is absolutely sure. Probably only a very little number of people speak grammatically.

  8. #8
    Tdol is offline Editor, UsingEnglish.com
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    Re: language crimes

    Quote Originally Posted by bianca View Post
    Crystal also says it’s time we embraced “they,” “them” and “their” as sexless singular pronouns (as in “Who lost their lunch?”). Much as I admire him, I can’t believe the singular “they” will become accepted in educated writing in our lifetime. Of course, I could be wrong. One never knows, do one?

    Can you believe that?

    bianca
    I certainly do. We have embraced it here. I think that the politeness principle can over-ride simple mathematics, just as vous can be used for a polite singular or a plural second person pronoun in French. Society changes; fifty years ago it may have made sense to begin a letter Dear Sir, but the workplace of today is very different and I would not dream of beginning a letter that way.

    Using he is numerically accurate, but it is not accurate in terms of gender when we don't know. S/he is ugly and can only exist as a written form, he or she is cumbersome, suggested alternatives like shim/shis never got off the ground, so the plural is the choice for me.

    Outside a men's football team or boys' school, who's lost his lunch? sounds weird to me.

  9. #9
    Barb_D's Avatar
    Barb_D is offline Moderator
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    Re: language crimes

    Bianca, as recently as a year ago, I was a big opponent of the singular "they." I thought you could always find a way around it. I no longer feel that way.

    Since I'm one of the more curmudgeonly people when it comes to grammar (I hate using "that" for people, and I strictly maintain the difference between "that" and which," and use the possessive for a gerund even though 98% of Americans don't) I figure I'm a good indicator. If I accept it, probably other curmudgeons are doing so more now too.

    It certainly is more convenient, and "it" is just out-and-out unaceptable.

  10. #10
    bianca is offline Senior Member
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    Re: language crimes

    Thanks, Barb_D, since I'm not a native speaker I have a hard time assimilating some of the changes in English. But, I guess I have to... since you also have done it.
    Last edited by bianca; 14-Jun-2007 at 21:17.

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