More thoughts on “singular they”

This time, I have backup from none other than John McWhorter, linguist, author, and senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research. That backup comes from his book Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold History of English.

Early on in Chapter Two (“A Lesson from the Celtic Impact: The ‘Grammatical Errors’ Epidemic Is a Hoax”), he discusses the bias against the usage of “they” to mean “one of an indeterminate gender.” Of course, he points out its appearance as early as the 15th century in the phrase “Iche mon in thayre degree” (each man in their degree) in the Sir Amadace tale. Then he names Shakespeare, of course, and Thackeray, too (“A person can’t help their birth,” from Vanity Fair). And yes, I hear the grumblings and see the head-shakings that “just because the Bard did it doesn’t make it right.” Well . . . I disagree, you see. He did it because it was being done. All over. By many, many people. The 19th-century grammarians and their blind insistence on making English conform to Latin grammar took issue, but that’s because . . . well, they meant well, but didn’t understand much about linguistics back then. Continue reading “More thoughts on “singular they””

The King’s “impoverish(ed) English”?

Lest we think that we’re alone in our clearly declining standards in English usage, spelling, and grammar, I offer this article from the BBC News, dated 28 June 2012.

I’ll let the article speak for itself, but I will say this: Is anyone else bothered by the fact that every paragraph is a single sentence?

Okay, so I won’t let the article speak entirely for itself. I have to wonder, as an English teacher myself, at the claim that “(t)here’s very little evidence of a benefit to teaching grammar (through grammar drills and exercises).” Speaking purely for myself, that’s exactly how I learned. And I learned it well. Well enough that when I had to take an editing test for a position at a company, I not only found all the errors–I also found four more that the key didn’t include. (I believe the key was updated to reflect those, after I was hired.)