Pronouns are personal

By which I mean, people get to choose their pronouns. Now that the breaking down of the gender binary is in full swing (and I hope it keeps right on breaking, personally), if someone identifies as NB (nonbinary, or enby), they get to choose “they” if that’s how they want to be referred to. (I’ll wager there are other flavors involved, like genderfluid, but as a bi cis woman, I don’t get to claim I know anything. I’ve seen it discussed, and the conversation’s far from over.)

So, when a professional editor tells an author (one they’re going to publish!) that “they” is unacceptable and that gendered pronouns must be used in the author’s bio (IN THEIR OWN BIO!), well …

Twitter drags them. And rightly so.

I wrote two tweets in response to this mess. The first one had my usual vulgarity (because yes, I believe this is utter bullshit and I call it like I see it); the second was written in a higher register, with more formal word choices and tone (but I still used singular they, ja you betcha). Why? Because of a related issue. At least I see they’re related. Actually, there are three that come to mind.

One is policing people’s language and word choice to reinforce the status quo. I suppose I get this one on level, maybe. But honestly, who is being harmed by someone choosing to be called “they/them?” Who’s injured by that? No one. Oh, sure, you can tell me it’s “harming the language.”

Guess what. It’s not doing any such thing.

Another is using your platform (as a editor, a publisher, a reviewer, whatever) to tell someone that your English is better and therefore YOU are better. That’s what happens when someone denies someone else the choice of a pronoun set. It’s classist (“I speak properly, you don’t”) and it’s phobic (“I’m straight and cis, and you’re something else, and that scares me so no, you can’t use those pronouns”).

It’s unethical and it’s rude (and it’s outmoded). I’ll bet you all know that “they” has been used in the singular since the 1300s. EIGHT HUNDRED YEARS. And a considerable amount of that usage has been printed and published.

Then there’s the “they never whine about ‘you,’ so why are they mad about ‘they?'” contingent. Well, they don’t whine about “you” because that particular change has been over and done (and the singular usage established) for nearly as long, coinciding with the Early Modern English years (roughly the Tudor and Stuart dynasties, or mid-1450s through early 1700s).

I’m no linguist, nor do I play one on TV. But I’ll take a shot in the dark at this. I wonder if the big pushback against “they” as a singular pronoun has to do with gender. Bear with me.

“You” and “ye” are/were second-person pronouns. “Ye” was singular, “you” plural. Here’s the thing: when you’re speaking to another person, you don’t NEED to specify their gender. (Oh DeAr GoDs A sInGuLaR “tHeIr”) You’re right there with them, looking at them. And with the plural, it doesn’t matter anyway. We don’t use gender markers with second-person pronouns. Only with third-person (he/him/his and she/her/hers, but the plural is they/them/theirs).

That fear of “not knowing if they’re male or female or what” is, I think, what’s keeping the fire lit under the cauldron of singular they.

Why is it so scary? They are who they are. You are who you are. I am who I am.

What’s scary about that?

Third, there’s the register issue. Formal registers use formal grammar and language and diction (word choices). Informal ones use casual forms. My first tweet contained the word “bullshit” twice. And you know what? I’m positive (and I do mean positive) that some folks brushed it off because of that word. Surely a professional, a former English teacher, would never, ever use such language. Therefore, this person (me!) must not really be a professional.

Guess what. Professionals curse. A LOT. And on Twitter? Boy, howdy. That’s like a big backyard party, with folks coming and going and just chatting and being themselves. I curse on Twitter, especially when I get angry about something. And ESPECIALLY when that something is a professional in my field (editing) behaving badly toward an author.

However, I decided this morning to RT the original tweet again, and this time my comment was in a far more formal register. (I still used a singular they, because TAKE THAT, ENGLISH TEACHER BRAIN!) And I noticed that a different group of people interacted with that one. Now, that could be merely a case of them not seeing last night’s tweet. But, it could just as well be a case of them choosing not to give attention to that one because of the language, and interacting with the “proper” one instead.

I dunno.

And I honestly don’t care. I’m not being harmed by it, and neither is anyone else. I choose my words as I see fit, taking many factors into account. I said basically the same thing in both comments, but one was more personal (“find a different publisher because this is bullshit”) and the other more formal (“it’s a breach of ethics and trust to deny an author the right to choose the pronouns they want used in their own bio”).

And I’m standing by all of it.

[There has been a non-apology issued by the publisher, by which I mean it was mealy-mouthed: “we had no idea” (you did, once the author pointed it out to you, but you ignored it and dug in) and “we apologize for any pain we may have caused” but without a direct “We’re sorry, and we’ll do better” to the wronged author. Ugh]

I’m still here.

I know, it’s been nearly three months since I last posted here. Life keeps happening.

My elderly father’s been vacillating between “aging in place” and moving to an assisted living facility. Granted, he’s 92; he can no longer drive after dark; his closest friends are moving sometime in the next year, back to California; his health isn’t awful, but he’s in slow decline, more physically than mentally.

Other family things have been going on, which I won’t discuss. Just know that, as I said up there, “life keeps happening.”

I’m still editing, albeit less than before merely by dint of other people’s lives happening to them. Nearly every slot I booked has slipped by a couple of months or more, which means I can book into the now-empty slots, but money I had roughly planned for isn’t coming for a couple of months or more. (See “slipped by.”)

However, I’m still here. I’m still reading and editing and tweeting. I’m still that opinionated one who says what she thinks. I’m not going anywhere, at least not that I’m aware of.

(This is mostly a test of the new editor at WordPress, but it’s also a chance to touch base with those of you who have subbed to my blog. I haven’t forgotten you. I promise.)

Another way to support me and my work

I’ve set up a Patreon. My hope is that folks will be interested in investing a little of their cash to have a say in what topics I write about here. Some of them might even want the opportunity to effectively hire me on retainer, paying an amount over time to have me edit their work either free (a short story) or at a discount (novels from 70,000 to 80,000 words). In between there are rewards like access to my private Discord server, where we might just hang out at the Water Cooler or I might hold some kind of educational or professional session in the Conference Room.

I hope you’ll at least click on the link to see what’s there, and maybe tell a few friends about it. This blog is my baby. I want to raise it right.

Karen Conlin at Patreon

What it doesn’t take to win the Robinson

I’ve been pondering a lot since Friday night. I mean, I was nearly dumbstruck by the events as they unfolded, even with last year’s laureate, Karen Yin, patting my arm and telling me to take deep breaths. (She had asked to sit with me at the banquet so we could catch up and chat. SURE KAREN, WHATEVER YOU SAY.)*

I can tell you what is not required to win the Robinson Prize for excellence in editing.

No memorization of anything, whether it’s dictionaries, style manuals, or usage guides.**

No big-name connections from past jobs.

No flying around the world to ensure people know who you are, so they’ll vote for you.

No red-carpet moments. (They’d be cool, but are def not required.)

Not self-confidence in the nomination, that’s for damn sure. I was in denial right up into the middle of Sarah Grey’s reading of the news release to the attendees, before she called my name and I somehow managed to walk to the stage. What tipped it? “Register.” I’m the voice in the wilderness. Maybe that will change now.

Not national or international attention prior to the nomination. It’s not like the Oscars. There’s no Golden Globe or People’s Choice to pave the way. You stand on your merits. Period.

Not a string of letters behind your name. I have two BAs: one in British Literature pre-19th century, and one in healthcare administration.*** No master’s degree, certainly no doctorate. I’ve taken two developmental editing courses through the EFA. That’s the extent of my traditional professional development.

I keep rereading the words from my clients, and I continue to be moved nearly to tears. I knew I was a good editor. I love my work. And I figured they thought I was good, too, or they’d not continue to hire me and pay me. I just didn’t know that my peers would think I was that good, too. (Thanks again, Dan, for being a pushy bastard.)

I still feel a bit like Sally Fields, though.****

*Karen Yin is a sweetheart and she knows I’m jesting. We talked about working together on a YA fantasy, and I am STILL STOKED about that.

**My performance in the Merriam-Webster Spelling Bee notwithstanding.

***YES I STYLED IT CLOSED FIGHT ME

****If this means nothing to you, a) you’re a kid and b) I invite you to search for “Sally Fields you like me GIF” and be enlightened.

#SpellcheckCannotSaveYou: a bit of explanation

This has gotten a little attention in the last month or so, mostly thanks to June Casagrande (a fantastic editor-person who’s written a number of highly accessible grammar and style books, most of which I own). One thing that some folks don’t quite understand is why it’s “cannot” and not “won’t” or “will not.”

Simple. And it’s got NOTHING to do with the fucking apostrophe (which kills a hashtag every time, y’know).

I don’t care whose software it is; the fact is, no spellcheck program is able to save you from yourself. It is incapable. It is unable. It CANNOT save you. It can ensure you won’t have any egregious misspellings, but when it comes to homonyms, it cannot save you. If the word’s spelled correctly, but still the wrong word, spellcheck is unable, incapable, powerless to save you.

It’s not a case of it being unwilling to perform, or uninterested in doing the job.

It cannot perform that duty. Only a human brain in conjunction with human eyes and reasoning abilities can parse the difference between cleaver and clever. No spellchecker will flag either of those words, unless for some reason you have manually told it to. (You did know you have that kind of control, right? Like, telling the program to always flag the word “pubic” to save you from mortification?)

Spellcheck cannot save you from errors stemming from correctly spelled words used incorrectly. Not that it will not (although technically, that’s true — it won’t save you, but there’s more to the sense behind the phrasing), but that it cannot. It is not capable. It is unable. It cannot perform that action.

Spellcheck cannot save you.

Obligatory new year post

Not “New Year,” because this has next to nothing to do with the holiday that’s several days past already. Just “new year,” because in fact it is a new year.

Last year there were quite a few changes in our household, but I’m not here to talk about them. Face it; you don’t give a shit about what happens in my house. Not unless it’s editing, and especially if it’s editing YOUR project. So, don’t sweat it. This isn’t the blog equivalent of some dreadful/dreaded holiday letter. Continue reading “Obligatory new year post”