Hey, conservative dickwads: “they” is older than “you”

I just don’t get what everyone is always freaking out about. Languages evolve, and revolve, depending on need. I mean, there are many, MANY more important ways to “defend the language” than pretending your losing (and perhaps under-acknowledged?) ideological stance is based in a desire to protect. Anyway, get over it. If you’re stewing for a language fight, go after business speak or something.

For the still unpersuaded, he points out that singular “they” is older than singular “you.” Only in the 1600s did singular “you” start pushing out “thou” and “thee.” Having the same pronoun for both singular and plural forms makes for potential ambiguity. So colloquial plural forms have sprung up, such as “y’all,” common in the American South, or the more recent “you guys” — an oddly gendered locution at a time when the generic “he” is becoming extinct. Still, we get by. No one considers ditching the singular “you.”

For Baron, the benefit of singular “they” is that it is often used by those in search of a nonbinary or gender-neutral pronoun, as well as those who give such issues little thought. While many language mavens are coming around reluctantly to singular “they” — in December Merriam-Webster anointed “they” its “word of the year” — this newspaper is among those publications still holding out against it. The paper’s defense is convention. I admit that the nonbinary use of “they” to refer to a specific person — “Alex likes their burger with mustard” — still sounds jangly to my ears. I will get used to it. Language, as Baron eloquently shows, works as a dynamic democracy, not as rule by experts. The sticklers may not like “they” (singular) but they (plural) will eventually have to bow to the inevitable.

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