Tuesday, July 28, 2009

He and She Presents: Xhe!

One of English's great shortcomings, from a grammarian's perspective, is its absence of neutral-gender singular pronouns. While most are blissfully unaware that the use of "they" or "their" as a singular reference is entirely incorrect, such use remains a bane for those who are actually schooled in the tongue. It's not really a big deal, really, or shouldn't be, at least. But in this confusing era of the politically correct, the formerly accepted use of "he" to reference people of both genders has led to the revolting proliferation of he/she in writing. Even worse, there are those who use the absolutely puke-inducing s/he. Um... okay.

As a language, English is constantly evolving, and we see new words snake their way into dictionaries pretty much every year. Indeed, some of these new words are so specific and temporal, they beg questions of why they were included in the first place. Strangely, we rarely ever get to see words that have any grammatical usefulness outside of their limited meaning. Case in point: neutral-gender singular pronouns. Damn near every other language has them... but for whatever reason, English did away with them centuries ago.

We have he. We have she. We have it. I suppose that "it" is technically the neutral-gender word so many of us grammar nit-pickers wish for, but most take issue with "it" being used to refer to a person. Why? Who knows? But I don't much like it, either.

So, I'm proposing a new word (a word I've proposed once before): xhe.

Imagine the ability to write the following: When a person wants to refer to a generic person, xhe needs to use a neutral-gender pronoun.

This would be in lieu of: When a person wants to refer to a generic person, he or she needs to use a neutral-gender pronoun.

I'm certain that most of you are reading this and asking yourself what the big deal is, and I'm equally certain that those asking that question don't know the difference between "you're" and "your," but whatever. There is a big deal, and again, you can blame the politically correct for it.

Even though I'm the one proposing it, I'm not a huge fan of the word, but I do recognize its need. Keep in mind that I have no problem with using "mankind" over "humankind," but some people like to whine about such words. Even though those same people probably don't give the words "dog," "cow," "lion," etc., a second thought. There's irony in ignorance, but I'm getting off-topic.

Basically, instead of proliferating absolutely ridiculous words such as "bling," why aren't we coming up with words we actually need? Now, when a person uses such aesthetically inane language, I don't hold it against them (ah ha! see?), but it does bring up certain notions of grammatical incompleteness.

Of course, as I just showed, we also need one for "him and her," but I'll let someone else come up with that one.

8 comments:

  1. Neutral-gender or gender-neutral? Also, paragraph 7 is so awkwardly worded, I'm not sure what you are saying.

    Conceptually, I agree with you and think we need a word for this. Political correctness is in the eye of the beholder IMO.

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  2. I quite like the idea of Xhe but it does sound a bit like a Chinese Prime Minister,

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  3. Hah! Yeah, it does, doesn't it?

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  4. I like 'xhe'. Do I see it catching on? Nah, but keep throwing shit out there, Jeff. Something is bound stick!

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  5. What about 'one' that's gender neutral, and we can pronounce it. How do you pronounce xhe?

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  6. "One" is like using "it" in my opinion, and there are rare occasions that it won't work. Besides, still leaves us the problem of "him and her," and a neologism will at least set some precedent to work that out, I think.

    Besides, nobody liked my other suggestion, so I'm stuck with "xhe."

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  7. Started to read this morning, got distracted when I went to comment by your drunken posts and somehow ended up here "He and She Presents: Zhe!" In Chinese writing and Mandarin (don't know about other Chinese dialects but assume it would hold true there as well) the spoken pronoun for he, she, him, her, and it, are all one word, ta. That is how you pronounce the word, but in writing the word has several characters- female ta, male ta, non-gender specific ta (the male ta can be used for this), and it ta. In my opinion the Chinese language is brilliant. People who speak different dialects still read the same written language. In many ways the language is less complicated than English, but harder to learn late in life because it is all about tones.

    All this to say, zhe ( a Mandarin word, by the way, that means "this") is a great idea :)!

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  8. hmmm. don't like xhe much--how do you say it? Why not just use 'the'...sounds a little weird at first, but people could figure it out in context, and since English is full of words that have several different meanings, what's one more?

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