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  1. #1
    queenbu's Avatar
    queenbu is offline Senior Member
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    take the bull by its horns

    In the English idioms section, to take the bull by its horns is given as
    Taking a bull by its horns would be the most direct but also the most dangerous way to try to compete with such an animal. When we use the phrase in everyday talk, we mean that the person we are talking about tackles their problems directly and is not worried about any risks involved.

    It doesn't sound right to me. Can you please help?

  2. #2
    mykwyner is offline Key Member
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    Re: take the bull by its horns

    If you are referring to the apparent discrepency between the plural pronoun, their and its singular antecedent, person, there is an explanation.

    Modern English has traditionally used the gender-specific pronoun, his in these types of constructions where person could refer to a man or a woman. Many modern writers consider this to be sexist, or anti-feminist, so today more and more style manuals recommend using the non-gender-specific plural pronouns, they and their.

    Any of these is considered correct today (at least in American English).

    1. If someone is arrested for a crime, then he should have a fair tiral.

    2. If someone is arrested for a crime, then he or she should have a fair trial.

    3. If someone is arrested for a crime, then he/she should have a fair trial.

    4. If someone is arrested for a crime, then they should have a fair trial.


    Personally, I hate sentence 3 and would never use that form. In my own writing, I try to avoid these constructions, but when I can't, I just pick one and stay with it throughout the entire writing.

  3. #3
    queenbu's Avatar
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    Re: take the bull by its horns

    1. If someone is arrested for a crime, then he should have a fair trial.
    2. If someone is arrested for a crime, then he or she should have a fair trial.
    3. If someone is arrested for a crime, then he/she should have a fair trial.
    4. If someone is arrested for a crime, then they should have a fair trial.

    Actually, I don't mind sentence 3. Sentence 4 still doesn't sound right to me but at least it doesn't sound as bad as
    we mean that the person we are talking about tackles their problems directly and is not worried about any risks involved.
    Can't we say 'we mean that the persons we are talking about tackle their problems directly and are not worried about any risks involved.'?

  4. #4
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    Re: take the bull by its horns

    Quote Originally Posted by queenbu View Post
    Can't we say 'we mean that the persons we are talking about tackle their problems directly and are not worried about any risks involved.'?
    The problem with replacement is that, well, for example, persons is as odd-sounding as their, wouldn't you agree? Why about, people or speakers?

    Another method, to add to mykwyner's post, and the one, I believe, preferred by more than a few teachers these days, is to rework the entire sentence by re-evaluating what it is you're trying to express to your audience. In this way, gender doesn't become an issue for the reader or the listener. For example, and in no particular order:

    1. Speakers who use this idiom are talking about tackling their problems....
    2. This idiom means to tackle your problems....

    This issue has been around for a very long time. Way back when, in graduate school, I joked about writing a paper on this very topic. I was going to call it "ee", pronounced [i:], a parody on a new pronoun for he/she.

    No matter how you switch the pronouns around, be it he/she (which isn't accepted by everyone: "she" follows "he") or she/he and s/he (which aren't accepted by everyone: they sound odd. "She" before "he"? And how do you pronounce s/he?). I suggested we get rid of those offending consonants. Thus: e/e, and since the slash (/) was no longer required, do away with that as well. Thus: ee. Then all we had to do was find an advertising company to sell it to speakers.

    My point at the time, who's the authority here, my grammar book (he) or my professors (he/she & she/he, s/he)? Which pronoun set do I use in my thesis!

    Thank the powers that be that someone out there realised we don't have to buy into their issue. Our generation has a slightly different take on what it means to be egalitarian and equitable: Make gender a non-issue. Reword the sentence.

    What do I teach my students? Exactly what you just read.

  5. #5
    queenbu's Avatar
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    Re: take the bull by its horns

    In my own writing, I try to avoid these constructions. (mykwyner)

    Reword the sentence.(Casiopea)

    I couldn't agree more but the issue here wasn't on how you would write it but whether how it's written is correct or not.

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    Re: take the bull by its horns

    Quote Originally Posted by queenbu View Post
    I couldn't agree more but the issue here wasn't on how you would write it but whether how it's written is correct or not.
    Here's a feast for thought.


    From they/their (singular)
    "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)."


    From Examples of singular "their" etc. from the OED and elsewhere
    "Here we go again. Last June I posted an article quoting the Oxford English Dictionary [OED], and tens of worthy authors through the ages from the 1300's to the present day, who have used `they', `them', `theirs', etc as singular gender-unspecific words. It is correct English. It was only later grammarians who tried to enforce the rule that they are plural words, and force us to use `he', etc. Luckily, most people have not followed their dictates.


    ["Singular their" was first faulted (by a grammarian applying mistaken analogies from Latin) in 1795, but continued to be used by many respected writers up to the present day._


    Illiterate? Shakespeare was just one of the many to use the form. Let history be the judge. Here are the quotes from the OED again, for the doubters: OED examples here..."


    From languagehat.com: SINGULAR "THEIR."
    "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!"

    From Chicago Style Q&A: Pronouns
    Question. I would swear that I saw a reference in your manual that approved of the use of “their” instead of a gender-biased singular pronoun. For example, “If the user has completed installing the program, they should put the CD-ROM back in the package,” instead of “If the user has completed installing the program, s/he should put the CD-ROM back in the package,” but on your Q&A, you dance around the answer to the question and suggest that you do NOT approve of the singular “their.” Can you tell us what is acceptable?


    Answer. Yes, you saw it at 2.98 (note 9) in the fourteenth edition, but there was some regret at having written it, and we decided not to second the idea in the fifteenth edition. Though some writers are comfortable with the occasional use of they as a singular pronoun, some are not, and it is better to do the necessary work to recast a sentence or, other options having been exhausted, use he or she. For a fuller discussion of this issue, see paragraphs 5.43 and 5.202–6 in CMOS 15, including the entry for “he or she” under the “Glossary of Troublesome Expressions” at paragraph 5.202.

    From Linguistics 001 -- Prescriptive and Descriptive Linguistics
    "Pinker suggests that those who fault "singular their" for violating the rules of grammatical agreement have wrongly analyzed the grammar of the situation, or at least have mixed up two things that need to be kept apart.


    The ancient Greek (and Roman) logicians (and grammarians) were not able to devise a workable approach, nor were the logicans of Medieval Europe.



    Lynch's Grammar and Style Notes say that
    • the colloquial their (a plural) doesn't agree with the verb, and is not grammatically correct. We use this often in speaking -- "a friend of mine called me." "What did they say?" -- but, although many writers have used it (see examples from Jane Austen), it often makes for bad formal writing today.
    -- his position seems to be that agreement failure is a complicated business, but he knows it when he sees it. He may well be wrong, but at this point we are putting one set of native-speaker intuitions (from Pinker and Churchyard) up against another (from Lynch)."
    From Pronouns and Pronoun-Antecedent Agreement

    Trying to conform to the [pronoun-antecedent agreement] rule can lead to a great deal of nonsense. It is widely regarded as being correct (or correct enough), at the beginning of the twenty-first century, to say
    • Somebody has left their bag on the floor.
    And finally, this entry. (I have highlighted the "winning" phrase. )

    Question. PLEASE tell me what you are recommending when people need a gender-neutral singular possessive pronoun. In order to avoid saying “his mind” or “her mind” (or, God forbid, “his/her mind”) people are saying “their mind”—and it blows MY mind—unless, of course, those people could be sure “they” are “of one mind”! If you have a discussion on this issue, I’d be most happy to receive it or be directed to it.

    Answer. I’m afraid your gender-neutral pronoun (at least in the sense you need) does not exist in our lexicon. I agree that the plural pronoun with a singular noun seems inadequate; I would suggest that you recast the sentence altogether or at least make “mind” plural for agreement: their minds. Other writers alternate between using “his” and “her” in such constructions in order to give equal status to each pronoun.



  7. #7
    BobK's Avatar
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    Re: take the bull by its horns

    Quote Originally Posted by Casiopea View Post
    ...
    Thank the powers that be that someone out there realised we don't have to buy into their issue. Our generation has a slightly different take on what it means to be egalitarian and equitable: Make gender a non-issue. Reword the sentence.

    What do I teach my students? Exactly what you just read.
    Amen to that; (quiet at the back, it's not clever).

    But this thread led me to look at the Idioms section. Do we really say 'Take the bull by its horns?
    Google
    Web Images Groups News Froogle more
    Advanced Search
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    Search: the web pages from the UK
    Web Results 1 - 10 of about 57,000 for "bull by the horns".
    but

    Google
    Web Images Groups News Froogle more
    Advanced Search
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    Search: the web pages from the UK
    Web Results 1 - 10 of about 116 for "bull by its horns".
    (and the first hit is this thread, which follows the Idioms section, so it's really 115!)

    b

  8. #8
    Red5 is offline Webmaster, UsingEnglish.com
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    Re: take the bull by its horns

    Lol!
    I'm not a teacher, so please consider any advice I give in that context.

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    Red5 is offline Webmaster, UsingEnglish.com
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    Re: take the bull by its horns

    Bob, I don't know where the 116 came in to Google's equation, but I get 14,600 results: "bull by its horns" - Google Search
    I'm not a teacher, so please consider any advice I give in that context.

  10. #10
    Red5 is offline Webmaster, UsingEnglish.com
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    Re: take the bull by its horns

    Oh, and not forgetting the additional 158 that used "it's": "bull by it's horns" - Google Search
    I'm not a teacher, so please consider any advice I give in that context.

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