The American Dialect Society has chosen singular ‘they’ as the word of the decade 2010-2019, and ‘(my) pronouns’ as word of the 2019.
Some comments on that.
The declining use of fingers in counting.
Firstly, it seems that in the ADS they are using a decade numbering system of their own. The current decade begins on 2011 and ends on 2020.
It’s a rather common mistake when thinking and counting in decades. The problem originates with the year 1 being the first year of the common era. There is no year 0.
So, if we count with our fingers the first decade ever, we have the years 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10. So, the first decade of the common era is 1-10. Consequently all the following decades begin on -1 and end on -0.
To complicate things further, for instance 1911-1920 is the second decade of the 20th century, not the 19th century. Since the 1st century is from year 1 to year 100, the 5th is from 401-500 etc, up to the 20th which is from 1901-2000. So the 21st century is from 2001 to 2100.
Granted, linguists are not mathematicians, but they should know how to use their fingers for counting countable quantities.
They are or they is?
Secondly, is there a singular ‘they’?
Apparently there is.
More recently, though, ‘they’ has also been used to refer to one person whose gender identity is nonbinary, a sense that is increasingly common in published, edited text, as well as social media and in daily personal interactions between English speakers. There’s no doubt that its use is established in the English language, which is why it was added to the Merriam-Webster.com dictionary this past September.Merriam-Webster.com
It seems to me that Nature loves two things: dipoles and having fun on all the problems originating from these dipoles and the exceptions they generate.
The human sexes are two: male and female. But the genders are a whole spectrum between these two extremes, so to speak. Theoretically one can say that there are numerous genders between male and female. And if one is to follow this line of thought, they would reach the conclusion that the number of genders is equal to the population of humans that have ever lived and will ever live in the future. More so, with the population of every past, current and future being that uses the binary sex system to reproduce itself.
So, if we would like to be just and absolutely correct in our use of personal pronouns, instead of ‘they’ we should use the ‘that-exact-point-between-she-and-not-that-she’.
Hermes and Aphrodite.
Nature may be laughing with us, but we haven’t said our last word.
What about the case of hermaphroditic organisms, you may wonder. Actually that is an easy one.
But before we go to our solution a small treat from the cellar. Did you know that the word ‘hermaphroditic’ comes from the ancient Greek words of Hermes and Aphrodite?
According to some traditions in Greek mythology, Hermaphroditus (Ἑρμαφρόδιτος), was the son of Hermes and Aphrodite in Greek mythology. Hermes was considered the archetype for men and Aphrodite for women. So much so, that their ‘son’ was born with a physical body combining male and female sexes.
According to our theory, that ‘male’ and ‘female’ are the two ideal and purely abstract extremes of a spectrum, it is no wonder that the union of those absolute extremes produced the whole spectrum.
Hermaphroditus could not identify with no particular point in the spectrum of genders, but with the whole spectrum per se.
The final solution.
Returning to our problem of the correct use of personal pronouns, how we could address such a person?
Why, with the pronoun ‘all-the-points-between-she-and-not-that-she’ of course!
Our spectrum theory is indeed a powerful tool to explain and tackle the multitude ways Nature finds to ridicule our intellect.
The gender problem is a serious one — if you have the luxury of such problems. And western societies think that they do have the luxury of endlessly and unproductively debating about personal pronouns.
But Nature has her way of solving problems of such a kind. If something isn’t working it gets obsolete and discarded, quickly replaced by another solution to the problem of life. Evolution more often than not leads to decline, fall and even extinction.
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