The first time I was told, “The patient prefers to be called they,” my mind became constipated.
I’ll admit that I hope there is a special place in The Inferno for those of us who feel the need to constantly correct others’ grammar. Yet, I have one of those people living in my head directing its vitriol in my direction.
I’d been flagellating myself since high school every time I caught myself using they to refer to a singular person. Instead, I tried to replace they with a singular pronoun, like he, she or it. I have also learned the hard way not to refer to people as it after being reamed by the mother of my first child when I said, “I think it’s ready for a nap.”
How English pronouns became so gendered is probably something someone who stills wears a vest to work knows the answer to, and I’m sure it’s a fascinating story. Apparently, there are languages that don’t have gendered pronouns, or have more than three gendered pronouns, or have a common gender and neuter gender.
Those of us who read the King James Bible as children may wonder what happened to all those thees and thous. Apparently, thou and its friends were replaced by the formal you and became filthy insults. Good riddance.
But for persons who don’t want to be gendered, it seems it just doesn’t cut the mustard.
Forever, English teachers have been correcting us when we answer, “They are home sick today,” when we mean “She is home sick today.” Honestly, she couldn’t care less whether she is also they, but the English teachers certainly did. That is just a convoluted way of saying we have been using they to refer to him or her forever, so why should it bother us to finally allow it to happen formally?
The plot thickens. Whereas before, using they was a slip of grammar, now it has real meaning. They is now a respectable neuter singular pronoun. The consequences of this go beyond social justice. To apply this rule correctly, English teachers should correct “They are home sick today,” to “They is home sick today.”
Thee and thou died as singular second person pronouns. They has arisen as the dual-edged sword of first person pronouns: both singular and plural… which is really the way we have always accidentally used it anyway, just with the wrong verb conjugation. I’m willing to suffer the constipation my mind experiences and the mental gymnastics it takes to make this change in thinking happen. The alternative is to force a gender onto someone else and that is not what I want for myself.
By the way, my pronouns are he, him, his, or they, them, theirs, but not she, her, hers or it, it, its.