March 07, 2008

Singular They

Why, just last week, I was muttering to a co-worker that the use of "they" and "their" with a singular antecedent would someday, decades hence, be totally kosher. (That is, saying something like, "Whoever swiped my stapler better show their face"—rather than "show his or her face.") I guess I'd assumed the construction was relatively new. But it's not! Turns out, both Shakespeare and Jane Austen were quite fond of it. And hey, if it's good enough for those crazy kids...

Both links come via Geoffrey Pullum's vivisection of a recent David Gerlenter essay in The Weekly Standard, which had argued that the singular "they" was foisted upon us by 1970s-vintage feminists intent on castrating the English language. Whatever; here's an image:

-- Brad Plumer 9:43 PM || ||