Speaking of He or She

“A person shooting a moose should make sure that their gun has more than one round in it.”

“A person” is singular, but “their” is plural.

Honestly? I don’t mind. English speakers have been doing the “they” trick for a long time, and complaining about it is actually the more recent development.

But it is a little weird when I see a Facebook status update that says, “Juanita has updated their profile picture.”

For one thing, who is this Juanita?

For another, though I can get used to seeing “their” (instead of “his” or “his or her”) when the sex of the person is unknown, it’s a little weird to see it when the sex is obvious. I know, of course, that Facebook can’t guess Juanita’s chromosomal makeup, let alone her self-image. I understand the issue.

But it’s weird. The question is, will it become less weird?

As we suffer under more and more computer ignorance, and we more and more avoid distinguishing between the sexes, will we end up always using “they” and “their,” regardless of the sex?

I mean, a hundred years down the road, will we just have one word for the third person singular and plural, masculine and feminine? Will people say, “he gave me their book,” meaning “he gave me his book”?

This isn’t crazy. I’ve commented before (in a longish post) on the fact that “you” is only recently both plural and singular. It sounds like some kind of backwards cheer, but if YOU can do it, THEY can too.


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