Pronomania [pro-no-MAY-nee-ah], n. an obsession with multiplying third-person personal pronouns to indicate a large number of genders, subjectively defined, resulting in the proliferation of personal pronouns, the announcement of “my” pronouns, and the user’s enhanced self-image and feeling of virtuous sensitivity to gender.
Some people think they know about pronouns. They know nothing. They think they can multiply English personal pronouns at will. They announce their “own” pronouns and feel virtuous. They don’t know that pronouns are one of a few classes of words that are so fundamental that the inventory is limited and rarely, if ever changed.
In a previous post, I quoted one of the pronomaniac websites, which connected the politically incorrect use of pronouns with oppression. In the critical race theory mentality, all roads lead to oppression.
Now it’s spread to corporations. Kellogg’s cereal boxes now invite kids to specify their gender. Companies are nothing if not cowardly. Whatever the consumer wants.
Pronouns are interesting, no question
Entire libraries of books and articles have been written about personal pronouns in English and other languages. Some languages appear to have no pronouns at all, at least no gender-marked ones, but what we call pronouns may appear in another form.
In The Secret Life of Pronouns, the author argues that the statistical frequency of certain pronouns tells a lot about the speaker and his/her truthfulness, among other things.
Interesting book. But we don’t need stats to convince us of the mystery and subtlety of pronouns.
You find few if any utterances without them, because personal pronouns are the stage-directors that tell who plays what role.
They are one of the structural pieces on which we hang our message. How does the message originate — with I, you, we, he, she, it, they…? Whom does it affect – me, you, us, her, them…? Does the verb allow two pronouns – We gave it to him – and how do we determine the meaning of each?
If you’re serious…
Any serious attempt at pronoun reform has to deal with the meanings of the individual pronouns and how the new gender scheme fits each. But that would be work, and the point is not work, but to signal the right feelings.
So, woke warriors, I will do your homework for you. Let’s start with…
We = ?
What does we mean? You and I? I and someone else but not you? An impersonal entity, like the government? Politicians regularly use we in this deceptive sense, to mean ‘the government, acting as your self-appointed agent’ ”We’re going to raise taxes…”. What do you do if the individuals involved want different pronouns?
You = ?
What does you mean? Is it generic – You need a power drill to…? Or indefinite – You live and learn? Or accusatory, individual-bound – You never listen to me!? Which of them requires a gender-sensitive pronoun? What if it’s plural for people with different pronouns? Someone’s bound to be offended and feel oppressed!
Or how about the subtleties of I? How many I’s are involved when we say I don’t know if I can control myself (actual sentence)? If you’re multi-gender, can you use multiple I’s and expect people to keep track of them all?
Magical properties of pronouns
And we haven’t even begun to talk about the magical properties of pronouns beyond themselves – their ability to refer to a preceding or a following element, depending on the sentence structure, and we have to get much or all of the utterance before we can figure out which.
Some pronouns can be the basis for recursion (recall the nursery rhyme about the house that Jack built).
All this is prelude to the point of this post: MEMO TO THE PRONOUN MULTIPLIERS: YOUR PROPOSALS ARE TOTALLY UNWORKABLE AND USEFUL MAINLY AS VIRTUE-SIGNALING.
To show the proposal at its most absurd:
Here is a list of gender-neutral pronouns:
He/She — Zie, Sie, Ey, Ve, Tey, E
Him/Her — Zim, Sie, Em, Ver, Ter, Em
His/Her — Zir, Hir, Eir, Vis, Tem, Eir
His/Hers — Zis, Hirs, Eirs, Vers, Ters, Eirs
Himself/Herself — Zieself, Hirself, Eirself, Verself, Terself, Emself?
HE/SHE HIM/HER HIS/HER
sie sie hir
ey em eir
ve ver vis
tey ter tem
I’m sure you can find other, equally laughable lists.
Exercise in futility
It should be obvious by now that adding pronouns is an exercise in futility. To expect everyone to remember everybody’s pronoun throughout a multi-party conversation is asking way too much.
Suppose you’re telling a story about three people – do you have to keep three sets of pronouns straight? I’ve noticed that everyone who announces their pronouns in professional emails to me uses the conventional ones. No surprise there.
Need MORE pronouns!
Conclusive evidence that this is a virtue-signaling process is the utter omission of the other two kinds of personal pronoun. They did a botched, amateurish job, but that doesn’t matter because they’re so virtuous.
Any actual attempt at pronoun reform, however quixotic and futile, should be thorough enough to include the second person pronouns. Shouldn’t there be dozens more variations of you, one for each gender?
Plus, speakers/writers would have to decide which meaning of you they were using – see above. Only direct references to the addressee would require the substitute gender-appropriate pronouns, right?
And how about I? Isn’t that the most important pronoun of all? Don’t you announce your gender every time you refer to yourself? Crank up the pronoun mill – we need a few dozen more.
What is wrong with America? What other society is so obsessed with race and gender (unless to torture and kill, the way the Chinese do – that’s real oppression)?
If I were a portentous philosopher, I’d say it’s a sign of decadence and decay, of a sick, over-stimulated, bored, enervated, self-obsessed society worrying about saying the wrong thing and sending the right message.
As a linguist I’ll just say: adding pronouns is stupid, pointless, and doomed to failure, so please knock it off.