Nearly three years ago, I wrote an article for this newsletter titled “The Case for Singular They.” [See our October–November 2012 issue. –Ed.] I took what I felt was a controversial stand, arguing that if a writer wants to use singular they, we should let them. Although it still may be a controversial stand, it seems that we may have reached a tipping point in the argument about gender-neutral pronouns.
I’ve long espoused the utility of the singular they as a handy pronoun for when the sex of the subject is hypothetical or unknown. But as a copyeditor, I’m beholden to convention—it’s not for me to tell an author they should use a form that some people consider ungrammatical. My job is to provide clarity and avoid bumps along the way.
Last week, former intelligence analyst Bradley Manning announced through his lawyer that he identifies as a woman and wants to be called Chelsea Manning.
For the media outlets, the immediate challenge was whether to refer to Manning as Bradley or Chelsea. Should they use masculine or feminine pronouns?
I don’t envy the reporters or editors who had to deal with this question on deadline. There’s little enough time in daily journalism to write and edit before you have to publish. There’s no time to discuss the finer points of pronoun usage.
Did you spot the recent doozy of an anachronism in Downton Abbey? Also in Today’s News Roundup: five ways to pre-qualify clients; the problem grammar of academics; one place not to use singular they; and swang.