Pineapples and Pronouns

This is a defense of they as a singular, gender-neutral pronoun.

English is a living language.  Words come in and out of vogue. Grammar is durable, but it, too, changes. Rules are a necessity, certainly, and give us a commonality necessary in communication and advancement as a civilization. Yet, wherever there are rules, there are those who break them. And, yes, certainly, the collar can bind and unify. Linguistically (and, more largely, culturally) speaking, we’re in an interesting time. Every year things leap ahead. It’s as though Moore’s Law is being applied to how we speak, write, and interact. Language is necessary to contextualize and share these experiences.

Grammatical and linguistic changes evolve through common usage and, in turn, become accepted and, often, become standards. Whether you like it or not.  (Literally and computer literate are two fine examples of said evolution.) And, one might add to that, the stylistic choice of ending sentences with prepositions and the rise of they as the de facto, singular, gender-neutral pronoun.

It is an appropriate pronoun for a pineapple, not a person. We deserve better than that.

And, it’s not the first time in history this topic has reared its head.

Writers have been using they in this manner for a long time.

And people are still talking about this very issue right now.

I appreciate the rules of grammar. Once, I too counted myself among those who held hard and fast to the rules, yet wondered while writers all the time oozed style and snagged attention while my own work seemed stilted and stiff.  The truth of the matter is they broke the rules.  And these rules get broken all the time.  And to good effect. It took years for it to sink into me that there wasn’t a secret coterie gathering together approving who could (and could not) break the rules and that I could give myself permission to break some rules too.

If all rules are perfectly followed, we’d not have as much innovation and style would be stunted or variations on a theme. The main thing is consistency throughout a work (and there is a distinct difference between style and sloppiness). I’ve been using they for quite a long time as a stylistic choice. They flows more naturally than he or she (and its increased inclusivity is great). As writers, designers, and publishers, we have an opportunity to help shape our living language and I, for one, prefer the usage of they as opposed to some less elegant alternatives I’ve seen.

If Shakespeare made up words without resounding condemnation, I think we should be permitted this little grammatical variation without much ado.

All that being said, I may still be one of the few holdouts who still fondly uses shall and whom (as appropriate, of course).

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