Reasons I should not read comments basically anywhere ever

I have a confession to make: I'm starting to really hate the word 'zie'. Sometimes 'xie'. I have begun to twitch whenever I see it.

I have no quarrel with the job it's doing; being a gender-neutral singular pronoun is perfectly respectable work. If you ask me to use 'zie' when I talk about you, I'll do it, because I believe in giving basic respect to all humans. Hell, I'll refer to you in third person, if you want. But I will secretly in the very back of my mind cringe and start to think of you as one of those people who demands Special Snowflake Status just for the sake of getting it. It's a marker. Sort of like there's nothing I find inherently offensive about being Texan, being Christian, or being Republican, but anyone who makes it a point to tell me they are all of these in the same conversation is also implying a lot of other things about their beliefs and politics that make them someone I probably don't really want to talk to.

The reason for this is not that I'm thrown all higgledy-piggledy by running into someone who doesn't fit neatly into the gender binary; unless you are personally trying to get into my pants, I am totally uninvolved with your gender or lack thereof. You are whatever you say you are. More things in Heaven and Earth, etc etc etc.

The reason I twitch is that we already have a perfectly good English word for the thing you want. It's "they". "They" has been used as a third-person singular pronoun for a person who is not known to be either male or female since the 14th century. Shakespeare used it. Are you going to argue with Shakespeare? I'm not leeching off the library right now and can't directly rummage through the OED, but someone has thoughtfully posted all the included citations.

[I feel exactly the same way about every bit of invented gibberish James Joyce ever wrote, for the record. You can make up 90% of the words in your novel if you want to, but if you do that, you are not allowed to get huffy when nobody has any idea what the fuck you're talking about.]

This scorn for using 'they' as a third-person singular pronoun is the fault of the same movement that insisted that one was Not Allowed to split infinitives in English, which is also incidentally wrong. It was based on the fact that one does not split infinitives in Latin. Leaving aside for the moment that whatever scurrilous things Latin gets up to with its grammar are irrelevant to English because English isn't even in the same branch of the Indo-European language family, the reason you don't split infinitives in Latin is because you can't. Infinitives in Latin are all one word. I cannot immediately think of another language in which has two-part infinitives, in fact, and my head is full of languages, so that's saying something.

And don't complain that using 'they' for both singular and plural is confusing. Mainstream English hasn't had a separate singular and plural for the second-person pronoun since 'thou' dropped out of common use in the early 1600s. The more astute among you may notice that this did not cause civilization to fall. Chinese and Japanese barely use pronouns at all, and somehow they manage to keep track of their shit about as well as anyone else on the planet.

If you are a cisperson who is upbraiding other people for not using 'zie' instead of 'they' in generic writing, completely on your own initiative, then you make me my hammer my head on the desk. I am embarrassed to be considered part of your cohort. I curse thee in the name of readability. I hope the day's of your live's are fu'll of superfluou's apostrophe's and; inappropriate semicolon's.

It reminds me of the time I asked some of the Navajo students at NAU how they'd prefer non-Navajo people to refer to them. They said to use the tribe name if I knew, otherwise just don't be derogatory. I asked about 'Native American' vs 'Indian'; they rolled their eyes back so far they were staring at their own cerebral cortices and pointed out that if they gave a shit about it they could have changed the name of the Bureau of Indian Affairs a long time ago.

Christ Almighty, I need to remember never to read comments on anything.

Comments