Let’s make the “hermaphrodite pronoun” happen!

There’s a major flaw in the English language – there’s no genderless pronoun. The only solution is a genderless pronoun, or rather a hermaphroditic pronoun (depending on how much fun you are at parties) that can finally replace the dreaded he/she.

As your 5th grade teacher no doubt taught you and you promptly forgot, it’s grammatically incorrect to say they when referring to a single person. For example, “someone should throw away their Crocs immediately,” is perhaps the best advice you’ll ever get, but it’s grammatically incorrect. Someone refers to a single person while their obviously refers to more than one person. You could fix this nugget of wisdom by replacing their with his/her, but then you just end up with tons of slashes. And who wants that? Slashes are the switch blades of grammar. Do you really want to go around pulling them on him, her and your reader? No.

It turns out that people have been writing about this for over 150 years. Dennis Barron pulled together an amazing post chronicling this effort. There are some truly amazing gems in the post including the following:

  • In 1886 a writer in the New York Evening Post offers his-her as “an hermaphrodite pronoun,” adding, perhaps tongue-in-cheek, “When one has become accustomed to the use of him-her, his-her, etc., one can drop the hyphen at his-her pleasure.”
  • “The need of a personal pronoun of the singular number and the common gender is so desperate, urgent, imperative, that according to the established theories it should have grown on our speech as the tails grew off of the monkeys.”

Eventually there were also calls for a “bi-personal pronoun” with several recommendations including hesher, hiser and himer as the compound forms of the nominative, possessive and objective forms of him/her.

Makes sense right? But we can do better. WAY better. I’m thinking a nice genderless pronoun could be something like, tuck. I mean, it works for drag queens right? What do you think? Let’s come up with some fantastic ideas. We can do this people. Fetch didn’t happen, but the “hermaphrodite pronoun” can with a little help from the Interwebs.

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7 Responses to Let’s make the “hermaphrodite pronoun” happen!

  1. Sally says:

    I thought SNL solved this one with Pat ;)

  2. Jimbo says:

    Bieber? That’s pretty much genderless.

  3. Logan says:

    I loved this post. I’m all for the rise of the gender-less pronoun. Lead the way!

    Also, I stumbled on this at Wikipedia too:

    Some groups and individuals have used non-standard pronouns, hoping they will become standard. Various proposals for such changes have been around since at least the 19th century. For example, abbreviated pronouns have been proposed: ‘e (for he or she) or ‘s (for his/hers); h’ (for him/her in object case); “zhe” (also “ze”), “zher(s)” (also “zer”), and “zhim” (also “mer”) for “he or she”, “his or her(s)”, and “him or her”, respectively; ‘self (for himself/herself); and hu, hus, hum, humself (for s/he, his/hers, him/her, himself/herself).

  4. Greetings neat piece! Glad 2 see that this web page works well on my redhat, everything 1 want 2 do is functional. ;> Where is the Wayne quartely gang ups of 12dietboost users? I just started 55 days ago!

  5. Kim says:

    I know this was posted forever ago, but I agree! I’m writing a story with an androgynous (and possibly asexual) lead character and I’m trying to introduce them without revealing their biological gender until a bit later on, but it’s so repetetive to keep using “they” over and over. And, of course, I’ve just now learned that that is technically incorrect… Grrr! What am I supposed to do!

    I mean really, Japanese has genderless pronouns, so why don’t we?

  6. kevin morgan says:

    Hi Kevmo,
    I am not sure that this problem will ever go away, as gender has created havoc on planet earth for a VERY long time. This state of dynamic tension, a type of tension that creates life, will always lie in our language, even if dormant from time to time. Language plays such a huge roll in how we think, and paradoxically thinking tends to be thrown out of the window as soon as gender interactions are involved, on a chemical level, anyway. I did like the post. I wonder how Esperanto dealt with it, as they could do whatever they wanted. At least, in English/American/Canadian/… we don’t have to label everything male or female, from a chair to a filing cabinet.
    Keep on trucking.
    -k @FitOldDog

  7. navenjo says:

    Boy, I hope they can develop this neutered pronoun quick so folks like me can go out of our way not to use it.

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