On agreement: Politically correct pronouns jump the shark

On agreement: Politically correct pronouns jump the shark

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If you want to be gender-neutral in your speech, why do you have to use bad grammar? Or mindless, meaningless “new” magic pronouns?

Another kooky professor? (Royalty free image via 4vector.com)

WASHINGTON, May 1, 2016 – It’s May Day 2016, and an excellent opportunity to update my early 2015 column on ungrammatical, politically correct pronoun usage. It’s another attempt in an ongoing series to get Americans to wake up and refuse to use incorrect English purposely and/or inadvertently. There have been some obnoxious new development that arose after our previous column and we’ll include them here.

As we’ve noted here before American English grammar has been on the down slope for what seems like an eternity now. But the unbelievably idiotic misuse of the possessive pronoun “their” has simply gotten out of control.

Check out this example we noticed in an CNBC report a while back, in which Cadie Thompson discusses the about-to-be available Apple Watch. See if you can spot what should be an obvious grammatical error:

“According to a 9to5 Mac report, the device will have a longer battery life than expected. The report cited sources that said the device could handle five hours of heavy app usage and would last a whole day with mixed usage.

“The report also cited sources as saying one feature in the watch will be called the Heart Rate Glance and will enable the user to check their heart rate at any time.”

If you were alert, you caught the problem in the second paragraph of this quotation: the Heart Rate Glance feature “will enable the user to check their heart rate at any time.” The use of “their” in this sentence is flat-out wrong. The plural pronoun “their” is not in agreement with the noun “user,” to which it refers.

Yet this one is an error we see all the time, so much so that it could become “standard usage.”

The usage clearly rose out of the world of PC and specifically feminist agitation geared toward purging the English language of its allegedly inherent sexism and over all patriarchal intent.

To wit: the previously accepted way to pen the offending phrase would likely have been “…will enable the user to check his heart rate at any time.” Back in the day, the possessive pronoun “his” not only referred to a male actor in a sentence. It also served as a neuter gender possessive pronoun when the individual referenced in the sentence was theoretical or unknown.

That worked just fine for centuries until the PC Police and radical, male-hating feminists decided that it wasn’t fine. For them, the use of “his” was inherently sexist and had to go. Rather than subject themselves to criticism, the always-wimpy academic community was the first to capitulate to this revisionist nonsense.

The incorrect use of “their” turned out to be the quick, easy and lazy way to avoid the risk of being denounced by the language police. Although it’s glaringly obvious in its misuse—it doesn’t agree in number with its non-gender specific antecedent single “user” in our example—it’s also a one-size-fits-all cheap and brainless fix for those who don’t care, which these days seems to be nearly everyone.

While “his” would still be the technically correct usage in our example, anyone who wants to avoid offending the easily-offended with that usage can easily skirt this issue by deploying one of two easy and correct solutions.

First, if you’re worried your audience might stone you for using “his,” you could simply bow in both directions and write out our phrase in the following manner:

“…will enable the user to check his or her heart rate at any time.” There we go. Equal opportunity for all. Simple, easy. Rephrasing in this manner acknowledges that “the user” could be either “him” or “her.” Or “he” or “she.”

On the other hand we can slightly alter the sentence in a way that actually makes “their” correct, as we’ll do right here:

“…will enable users to check their heart rates at any time.” Now we have plural, neuter gender “users,” so we can correctly employ the corresponding plural possessive pronoun, “their” to modify the antecedent. Note we also alter “rate” singular to “rates” plural to keep everything in agreement.

Neither of these genteel, grammatically acceptable examples of politically correct use should offend anyone, since they accomplish the same objective while maintaining correct English grammar and usage. For that reason, why writers and speakers insist on going for the lazy, sloppy misuse of “their” to avoid getting sent to the gender penalty box is simply beyond me.

My two suggestions here are both politically correct and grammatically correct, so why not use whichever one of them suits your fancy? If you’re going to succumb to the language police, at least do it correctly.

One other pronoun-related item, however, complicates our sensible solution. At the same time it demonstrates how vicious the political left has become.

Near the turn of the New Year, the Daily Caller reported yet another disgusting grammatical development, courtesy of the blithering idiots currently populating New York’s DeBlasio administration’s Thought Police:

“‘Calling a person “she” instead of “ze” could be grounds for a $250,000 fine in New York City under new civil rights guidelines published just before Christmas which ban the “misgendering” of individuals.’”

What does this new, mythical pronoun have to do with the misuse of “their”? Let’s look at the examples appearing in a “detailed write-up of the new rule” as reported by the DC. Bold text below is courtesy of this columnist. According to the “rule,” you could get fined under this statute by:

“Repeatedly referring to a person by something other than their chosen title, such as “Mr.” or “Ms.” The policy doesn’t explicitly say how gender-neutral titles such as “Mx.” should be treated, though it is implied such titles must be used if a person desires it.

“Refusing to call a person by their chosen pronoun. Said pronouns not only include “he” and “she,” but also explicitly include gender-neutral ones such as “ze/hir,” if that is what they desire.

“Requiring a person to legally change their name before using their preferred alternative. For example, company may not insist on calling an employee John if he prefers Jane, even if John is his legal name.

“Requiring a person to prove they have begun gender transition treatment before referring to them by alternative pronouns, names, and titles.”

“What they desire,” indeed. Does this mean we can get in trouble for failing to correctly predict the current gender preference of another individual?

Who exactly are the screwballs who have enough idle time to come up with an entire new batch of heretofore undiscovered fantasy pronouns like the ones the DeBlasio nutcases are attempting to cram down the public’s collective throat, once again misusing “their” in the process?

At least one source for these new, magic pronouns surfaced quite prominently last summer in Tennessee, courtesy of a taxpayer funded administrative nutcase who was somehow appointed to the university system there, presumably to “raise consciousness” among the unwashed with regard to the fantasy genders that seem to be popping up today all over the place.

As reported in August, 2015, by Knoxville, Tennessee’s WATE.com,

“The University of Tennessee is asking students to use ‘zehirhirs, and xexemxyr.’

“No, those words are not another language. According to the University of Tennessee, they’re actually the gender-neutral singular versions of pronouns…

The University of Tennessee Office for Diversity and Inclusion is asking students and faculty to use the pronouns in order to create a more inclusive campus. They say it alleviates a heavy burden for people expressing different genders or identities.

“‘We should not assume someone’s gender by their appearance, nor by what is listed on a roster or in student information systems,’ Donna Braquet, the director of the University of Tennessee’s Pride Center said.”

Who invented those asinine “new” pronouns? It’s not really clear. But this alternative pronoun nonsense simply and emphatically proves the point we made in our earlier iteration of this article: namely, if you succumb to the PC Police on an allegedly small matter such as the incorrect but “non-sexist” deployment of “their,” you’ll simply encourage them to make even more idiotic grievances requiring even greater PC conformity on your part.

Braquet’s utterly dumbfounding list of fantasy pronouns would, among other things, certainly make our proposed gender solution above more difficult to undertake. But why should rational people even consider knuckling under to ideological language kooks by using an ever-proliferating list of nonexistent and nonsensical pronouns to describe the nearly-infinite number of fantasy genders and gender combos being manufactured by leftists today, the better to perpetuate a mythical “class struggle”? The left may have finally jumped the shark on this one.

Bottom line: You simply cannot give in to these gender and linguistic Stalinists. If you do, you’re just asking for more. Giving in to them today is no guarantee that they’ll go away. In fact, quite the opposite is true.

This writer, for one, absolutely refuses to conform to this bizarre nonsense. You should do the same. Tyranny comes in many disguises. Ongoing pronoun nonsense, inoffensive as it may have seemed at first, is simply one of them.

On a more positive note: Outraged legislators in Tennessee are hot on the trail of Braquet and the ongoing politically correct nonsense proliferating at the University of Tennessee. They may very well start defunding “administrative” positions like Braquet’s that insult the intellect and waste taxpayer and student tuition dollars by the bucket load. Good for them.

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Terry Ponick
Biographical Note: Dateline Award-winning music and theater critic for The Connection Newspapers and the Reston-Fairfax Times, Terry was the music critic for the Washington Times print edition (1994-2010) and online Communities (2010-2014). Since 2014, he has been the Business and Entertainment Editor for Communities Digital News (CDN). A former stockbroker and a writer and editor with many interests, he served as editor under contract from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and continues to write on science and business topics. He is a graduate of Georgetown University (BA, MA) and the University of South Carolina where he was awarded a Ph.D. in English and American Literature and co-founded one of the earliest Writing Labs in the country. Twitter: @terryp17