Amoeba’s Lorica: Solving the 3rd Person Pronoun Problem

Solution to the 3rd person singular pronoun problem in English A few days ago, Your Friendly Neighborhood Amoeba encountered an article online that could (should?) serve as the poster child for the 3rd-person singular pronoun problem in the English language.

As you no doubt know, dear reader, the problem is that there is no gender-neutral 3rd-person singular pronoun in English other than ‘it’, which We the People can’t seem to bring ourselves to use for persons – kinda impersonal, yeah? – and it’s not acceptable to cure either of the gender-associated pronouns (he, she) of its sex addiction.

The article featured what YFNA observes to be a common ‘fix’ these days – to substitute the 3rd person plural pronoun (they) for the singular. This ‘fix’ mostly does a good job of setting YFNA’s teeth on edge.

Instructions for setting an Amoeba’s teeth on edge:

1. Find teeth …

And to make matters worse, the article’s author did not use the ‘fix’ consistently. Making it almost impossible to work out just who was doing what to whom.

Now, it seems to YFNA that there really should be no problem. There is already a word in English that is a portmanteau of the pronouns he, she, and it and is thus preadapted for use as a gender-neutral personal pronoun. The word is already in widespread and common use, and is becoming increasingly acceptable in all contexts and forms of speech and writing. And, YFNA argues, there is no single word in modern English that more concisely and accurately describes the present-day state of humanity.

Let us compare a paragraph of the original article (which postulates a Hunger Games contest involving all sixteen Myers-Briggs personality types) with one that makes use of the new pronoun, and see how much better the latter is:

The original:

Realizing that there are only two competitors left, the ENTJ becomes stressed about not having planned out their victory speech. While they are* developing a strategy for the contestants they will mentor next season, the ISTP sneaks up behind them and shoots them unfailingly through the heart.

The improvement:

Realizing that there are only two competitors left, the ENTJ becomes stressed about not having planned out shits victory speech. While shit is developing a strategy for the contestants shit will mentor next season, the ISTP sneaks up behind shit and shoots shit unfailingly through the heart.

So, YFNA reminds you, the next time you holler “Oh, shit!” about something, remember that you’re calling out your fellow humans, if not all humanity in general.

As if you weren’t already.

* Since they is substituting for the third-person singular pronoun here, the syntax should be they is. As if the paragraph didn’t already have difficulties enough.

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5 Responses to Amoeba’s Lorica: Solving the 3rd Person Pronoun Problem

  1. Quilly says:

    Shits.

  2. Nathalie Hoke says:

    I am one of the people who consider this to be a serious problem. People, especially young people, who consider themselves gender-neutral need gender-neutral words. It’s not funny to them.

    I don’t like the use of “they” for one person. It doesn’t work for me. (They are coming to dinner. Should I set one extra place, or three or four?)

    I don’t know the answer, but I am sensitive to the issue. Kids in this situation are very likely to be homeless, or to die by suicide. They are by no means “shit.”

  3. Nathalie Hoke says:

    Actually I do not consider most of humanity to be shit.

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