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Friday, December 09, 2005

 
He, She, S/he, Co...
Part of my job is to read the new books our bookstore has gotten in, in order to write the website description to go with the title. (Yes, we write our own descriptions. We are that cool. Or dedicated. Or obsessive. You pick.) I am currently reading Coping with Asperger Syndrome by Maxine Rosaler. It's a good, easily read and simply written synthesis of a lot of the more in-depth books and research on Asperger syndrome out there, not too overwhelming for someone who needs to start learning about the issue. (Soon to be on our website store! I'll stop now.)

However, the thing that actually made me want to talk about it is the book's extremely conscious attempt to be un-gender-biased in its presentation of hypothetical children with Asperger syndrome. One paragraph refers to this nameless concrete example of a child as "she," but in the next section, it's "he." I am all for gender balance in writing, but all of the various attempts at rectifying the old prescriptivist approach that "he" was the word to use for unspecified third person singular human referents strike me as jarringly self-conscious in the midst of otherwise very smooth writing.

If the writing world would just catch up with the rest of the world, not to mention descriptivist linguistics, we'd finally be able to acknowledge out loud that "they" has long been in use as the unisex third person. Break free of the oppressive prescriptivist law that "they" must always be plural! Write like a human being and native English speaker! The relief will be palpable to all, readers and writers alike. Really.

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