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Archive for December 6th, 2010

Faculty were discussing connections between language and gender at a recent campus event when one professor professed disdain for the disappearance of the word “one” in formal writing.  “One,” this professor argued, was previously used much more frequently and is, obviously, a gender-neutral way to describe a person.  Another professor mentioned student writing specifically and noted with a laugh that students tend to use “they.”  The laugh seemed to indicate a joke about her students’ lack of grammatical abilities, but in making this joke she seemed to overlook the more profound meaning of her statement.

Whether or not the word “one” was once more common in formal writing (I’ve read enough work by dead social theorists to suspect that “he” was the preferred pronoun in sociology circa 1950), the rise of the singular “they” should not be condemned, it should be embraced.  When professors look down their noses at students they see as poorly trained they are ignoring the fact that these students (and the fluid qualities of language) have effectively solved the problem of awkward “s/he” constructions that have plagued us in the decades since we realized that over half of our society is not, in fact, male.  All we need to do is put down the red pens and let the transition run its course.

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