Flipping on the pronoun number rule


So, I'm writing up my notes on my FluentConf talk, and realizing that I'm struggling a bit with the pronouns in the book. Gendered pronouns unwittingly make assumptions about the reader, assumptions I don't want to make. I also don't want to insult 51% of my readers by using an unassociated gendered pronoun (yes, I recognize the projection / assumption that my readership is nominally even for the two main genders, let's go with it).

I grew up learning the two grammar rules.

1. A pronoun's and its antecedent's numbers should match.

Use "her" referring to single female antecedents, and "him" to single male antecedents. "They" and "their" are for plural antecedents, don't match a single-numbered subject number-wise, and would be, therefore, incorrect.

2. When referring to individuals in a group of people, use "he" and "his" if even if one person is male; use "she" and "her" only if everyone is female.

This one is awkward, and completely outdated for a society where women are (well, f---, should be, though we know they aren't) equals. It is reflective of the patriarchal culture from which the rule originates.

These days, most people will go with "they" when referring to individuals in a group. It works as a gender-neutral pronoun, which is great, but breaks the numbers-must-match rule. Honestly, the number-must-match rule is a frustrating rule, because, well, it's the pet peeve of a school mistress from the mid 1800s. There are many published/documented theys as a gender neutral pronoun, it was a common, accepted speech pattern.

The rule is personally frustrating, because it wasn't what I was taught to be true. Go fig. Lots of things I was taught aren't true. Pluto isn't a planet. Canada has three territories, not two. The USSR isn't a country. Fat is bad for you. So many things "true" are really just dogma. So many more things are grey than black or white.

Yeah, so, I've decided to do my best in the notes to use "we," "you," and "I." I'll do my best to avoid having to use pronouns. When I can't avoid them, I'm totally using "they" and "their," without apology.

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