Thursday, January 11, 2007

Him vs. Her? PAT!

OK, so you know how there is sometimes a need to refer to a person, but you might not necessarily know the gender of the person? For instance, let's say you're giving instructions on how to brush one's teeth:

  1. The user of the toothbrush should put toothpaste on the toothbrush.
  2. They should then insert the toothbrush into their mouth and scrub their teeth.
Lame example, I know, but you get the point. The words they/their is used as a gender-neutral pronoun here, but technically this is incorrect as the user of the toothbrush is singular and the pronoun they is plural.

Traditionally when referring to a person of an ambiguous gender I've seen people employ a few different methods:
  1. He or she should then insert the toothbrush into his or her mouth and scrub his or her teeth.
  2. He/she should then insert the toothbrush into his/her mouth and scrub his/her teeth.
  3. He should then insert the toothbrush into his mouth and scrub his teeth.
Recently I've noticed a trend to do the following instead:
  1. She should then insert the toothbrush into her mouth and scrub her teeth.
This one just feels lame to me. I mean, in the third example of the first set people are obviously using he instead of he/she, etc in the name of laziness and also because it flows better when you read it, but do we need to be that PC that we now must also use feminine pronouns to ensure equality?

Mind you, these authors are not all female; were that the case I'd say, " use what you identify most with...makes sense." Most of the time I see it, it's a male author writing it. It just comes off to me as though they are trying too hard, like they are thinking, "I am a computer nerd and the ladies don't like me because I'm a geek, but if I use feminine pronouns I'll appear sensitive and desirable and the ladies will come knocking."


So here's what I propose as a solution: "Pat". Yes, "Pat". You know, from Saturday Night Live? I suggest that from now on when we are using pronouns to refer to an unknown person, we replace him/her/he/she with "Pat". For example:

  1. Pat should then insert the toothbrush into Pat's mouth and scrub Pat's teeth.
It works perfectly and it makes me giggle. What do you think?

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