Yesterday, Karen posted about how she’s fine with the use of the singular “they,” as in, “Everyone can decide for themselves.” My initial response to her was, “Of course you know this means war.” (Yes, that phrase comes from where you think it comes from.)
But then today I saw this article about how the Queen’s English Society closed up shop recently. For 40 years, the QES had pushed for the continued use of proper English despite what the group perceived as declining standards. It took the prescriptive approach to grammar—trying to enforce the rules as they should exist, rather than adapting the rules to reflect what was actually happening to the language.
So I started to wonder: when (for example) I continue to insist that “they” is not singular, and I go out of my way to recast phrases such as “Everyone can decide for themselves” to “People can decide for themselves,” does that make me part of the language police? When is it worth fighting, and when is it better to go with the flow?
I don’t have an answer yet. I just wanted to ask the question and see what people thought.
Also, while looking into the QES, I couldn’t help but notice that the group’s website says nothing about disbanding. In fact, they’ve announced that their next annual meeting will take place in September. So perhaps the QES is not dead yet!
That would be a good thing; if nothing else, their website has a section called “On the Lighter Side” that has some decent language entertainment. For example, check out the Oxford Word Challenge, in which you have to identify a pair of homophones from clues. And then read “A Lesson Learned (the Hard Way),” which dramatizes the terrible things that can happen when you end a sentence with a preposition.
3 thoughts on “There’s no “I” in “they,” either”
trying to enforce the rules as they believe those rules should exist…
As you can tell, Ray and I aren’t precisely aligned when it comes to usage. It keeps us on our toes. Heh.
This is Ray, too lazy to look up my credentials for logging in while on my phone. I now use singular they all the time! And it took me only four years to come around.