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.
Will we start using themself … again? Also in today’s News Roundup: a social media schedule for freelancers, owning multiple dictionaries, pronoun antecedents, and how not to correct your author. Welcome to Wednesday, copyeditors!
GRAMMARHULK, one of a community of Hulk personas on Twitter and an even larger community of language lovers, has been delighting us with grammar, spelling, usage, and editing advice and observations for two and a half years.
WOW, IT REALLY BEEN THAT LONG?
How did your puny human alter ego, a mild-mannered Manhattan editor, get into editing? How long have you been editing and for what sorts of materials?
The that/which distinction is a favorite among American English usage commentators and copyeditors. For those not familiar with it, here’s a primer. A relative clause is a subordinate clause that modifies something, usually a noun, in another clause. The relative pronoun fills a role in the relative clause, and the noun that it modifies serves as its antecedent. (Note: Many linguists argue that that is not a pronoun at all but rather a relativizing subordinator.