This is a message that the p.c. crowd — in the media, in the universities – needs to hear again and again, because they don’t get it, especially when a Presidential candidate (Warren) announces “her” pronouns on the debate stage, and a teacher is fired for not using the student’s preferred pronouns. It is not enough, the argument goes, to have pronouns of two genders, when there are so many other genders. We need more pronouns!
Can’t keep up
Along with pronoun enforcement, duplicitous, contemptible euphemisms, another key element of politically correct language, continue to proliferate. I can’t keep up.
The State of New York imposes obscene penalties for calling someone an “illegal alien.”
NBA owners can no longer be called “owners,” because that implies that the players are property. Arguably, they are, replaceable as auto parts when one gets broken. But let’s leave that aside. The owners own much more than the players. They “own” an entire sports enterprise.
The society is awash in the language of division and manufactured sensitivity, amplified a million-fold by electronic/social media.
You can’t use the word lynch in a metaphorical sense to refer to an organized, (allegedly) misguided but non-violent persecution — as Trump recently did and Clarence Thomas (black, so it was OK for him) did repeatedly years ago –because of what it used to mean. Actually, it terminated in hr death of the victtim – a big difference with contemporary, metaphorical lynching,
Certain words are not allowed to acquire metaphorical, derived meanings, though it happens all the time. Revert used to mean ‘physically turn back.’ Now it refers to dozens of kinds of turning back (often with the superfluous revert back).
Back to pronouns
Language oppression now extends to pronouns.- I, we, you, he, she it, they — a handful of small words with many subtle and complex uses. Let’s go over it again:
(1) Pronouns are “function words” — one of several classes of words that signal and contribute to the basic structure of the sentence and, in the case of pronouns, substitute for other words, often earlier in the utterance. They are learned early. Without them, we can’t speak coherently: we can’t talk about ourselves or the people or the world around us.
Can’t mess with function-words
(2) You cannot mess with function words. Pronoun change is spontaneous and glacial. The last addition she, begins to appear in the Middle Ages. Old English had he for ‘he’ and heo for ‘she.’
Thou and thee (see https://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/why-did-people-stop-saying-thou ), originally signaling a social distinction which we still find in other languages, hung around for a long time and are still heard in Biblical, Amish, and other archaic varieties of English.
(3) From a practical standpoint, it’s hard enough to encode our thoughts and say what we mean. To select, as we try to get our thought out, words that we’re barely aware of in the first place is just too much.
If we have to change our pronouns with every interlocutor, we’d never get anything said. And yet this is what the pronoun-correctness people would have us do.
Lazy and uninformed
(4) The pronoun-replacers are intellectually lazy or in need of a serious lecture by a real linguist (see below). Here’s one of the lists:
It’s worth noting that in the progressive ideology, all roads lead to oppression. The FAQs on this site tell you the consequences of failure to use the correct pronoun:
“When someone is referred to with the wrong pronoun, it can make them feel disrespected, invalidated, dismissed, alienated, or dysphoric (often all of the above.)
“It is a privilege to not have to worry about which pronoun someone is going to use for you based on how they perceive your gender. If you have this privilege, yet fail to respect someone else’s gender identity, it is not only disrespectful and hurtful, but also oppressive.”
The lists I’ve seen are mostly third-person. That’s how you want to be talked about. OK.
What about the other pronouns?
How do you want to be addressed? Second-person pronouns are a whole new can of worms.
Are you going to distinguish between indefinite (e.g., If you [i.e., ‘one’ or ‘someone’] want to get elected…) and personal you (You have red hair.)? Include you in all its complexity, and you’ve (that’s the indefinite) now doubled the burden on your interlocutor.
What about the first person? Do people refer to themselves by gender-appropriate pronouns? And consider the first-person plural — is it sexist to use “we” meaning ‘I and a transgender person with their own pronouns’? More complexity.
Conclusions — and a question
All the pronoun BS tells me is that some — thankfully, few — people will lower their offense threshold below all reasonable limits. Also, that these people have way too much time on their hands.
Anybody out there?
And finally — and most importantly — a question: why aren’t linguists with media access calling this nonsense out for what it is?
Do linguists have any sense of social responsibility? If they do, isn’t part of that responsibility to ensure that as many citizens as possible, from fourth-graders on up, are aware of attempts to manipulate them through incendiary language and to fool them by renaming things?
Why aren’t Americans more sophisticated about ubiquitous language abuse? Do we have to leave it all to George Carlin?
The silence is deafening.
Why? Hypothesis: academic linguists are all safely nestled (and in many cases tenured) in the bosom of political correctness, the universities.
No sense in rocking the boat.
Stop the insanity
But I will. Let’s stop the insanity and muddle along with the pronouns we have, which are complicated enough without any additions.
The only short-term pronoun change I see is the gradual acceptance of they referring to male or female indefinites and especially distributives (Everybody has their own opinion.)
It’s worth noting that the FAQ material quoted above does in fact use they for indefinites of all genders. Guess they solved that problem without worrying about the gender of the people they were talking about.
Grammarians may tear their hair over they, but it’s an inelegant solution that partly recognizes the sexism allegedly built into language — or perhaps discovered by offense-seeking feminists.
Politics of language change
For a long time, man stood for ‘human being,’ as it does in other languages, and nobody complained. Then language became politicized, offensive speech was discovered everywhere, and of course, when somebody used (a) man…he/his, as well as mankind, etc., they were clearly and consciously excluding women.
This is all based on a theory, on an imagined connection between language and thought that nobody can document, much less prove. Nobody really knows what goes on in the brain to produce and perceive language, and it is intellectual arrogance to pretend that you do.
So let’s adopt they and get on with our lives. Otherwise, we’re stuck with his/her, s/he, and other partial solutions. (It’s often helpful to switch to the plural (people…their; we…our)
And let’s stop using feminine pronouns for indefinites, e.g., A doctor might use the drug on her patients. A feminine pronoun — the “marked” form — coming out of left field is confusing, pretentious virtue/sensitivity-signalling at the expense of clear communication.
Keep your obsession to yourself
If we can use pronouns to finesse the male-female distinction to most people’s satisfaction and still communicate…. enough already. Obsess over gender if you will, but stop trying to enshrine your obsessions in the basic workings of language.