- For Teachers
NEW YORK LAW JOURNAL Friday, November 18, 1994
A Modest Proposal on Pronouns
BY GEORGE T. ANAGNOS
I HAVE A MODEST proposal to make regarding the use of certain pronouns in our language. Having read the umpteenth memorandum with "he or she" and "his/hers," and having also sought in my own oral and written communications to be sensitive to gender bias while avoiding grammatical awkwardness, it occurs to me that there is a simple way out of this troublesome dilemma caused by an evolutionary void in our vocabulary.
Now, I know that language purists without an ounce of gender prejudice will say there is no need for any solution to a nonexistent problem. They will correctly assert that he and his and him are traditionally used to refer to both sexes in all generic statements. But the fact is that these terms are male pronouns.
One can argue that the words mankind and even man alone have forever been used as inclusive of all people. But, the routine pronoun selections of he, when referring to a doctor or an architect or a manager, and of she, when referring to a nurse or a decorator or a secretary, are often reflective of historical exclusivity, relegation, and discrimination.
Moreover, there are sensible substitutes for mankind and man, such as humans, humanity, people, persons, and individuals. There exist no alternative English words that are inclusive of both sexes for the corresponding singular pronouns.
AMONG THE MANY thoughtful efforts at equity pursued these days, we frequently see the mismatched use of the plurals "they" and "their" when the reference is to a single individual. We more often witness unpronounceable and stilted structures such as "(s)he" and "his/hers." We regularly observe the tripling of word volume with a recurring "he or she." (Even with these constructs, a bias continues with the male pronouns almost invariably shown first.)
Once in a while, we encounter the spirited use of she and her and hers as the singular pronouns of choice. My own approach in such situations is to overuse the passive voice, along with more repetitive nouns, so as to forego slighting either half of humanity, while eschewing the disruptive mechanical formulations.
My simple solution to this vocabulary vacuum is to add three new pronouns to our language. It really does not matter what they are, but they should comport with our grammatical habits in order to have some feasibility of broad acceptance. In addition, they should be short, consistent, and unencumbered by any appearance of gender preference or by usage in other customary contexts.
IN THAT LIGHT, I offer "lu," "lus," and "lun," as the three new words to signify, respectively, the singular nominative "she or he," possessive "his or her or hers," and objective "her or him."
Aside from the impartiality in both the consonants and vowel that lu, lus, and lun represent, they are also all three absent from the general English dictionaries as well as from the set of commonly known foreign terms. Even if it turns out that they have some rare scientific or other esoteric definitions, such obscure usage will not detract from a new universal application as gender-neutral people pronouns.
A writer might ask lunself if this approach would be helpful to lun. It depends if lu cares about the legitimate sensitivities of many women, about language rationality in general, and about lus own time expended in every pronoun-pondering predicament.
I realize of course that unlike countries such as France, we do not have some official academy which can dictate the correct standards of our beloved language. That is a good thing; otherwise 1 probably would not be permitted to even submit such an unpedagogical proposal.
Our prestige press comes the closest to a national literary advocate for our gloriously innovative tongue. And so, I proffer my humble idea in these august columns. May the facile flow of lu, lus, and lun in each reader's future perusals be as satisfying to lun as its conception has been to me. And may lawyers, for a change, be the first to simplify.
George T. Anagnos is a lawyer in Hackensack, N.J.
Last edited by Tdol; 07-Aug-2007 at 11:06. Reason: Invalid link removed
'Shim' was knocking around a few years ago but didn't take off, which I can't say I was sad about.
I assume it's a seriuos and solemn article, yet I find it quite amusing