Please Stop Using “They” & “Them” When Referring To Only One Person
You’re unnecessarily mangling English & confusing readers. Instead, use new gender-neutral pronouns “hem” for him/her and “hes” for he/she
Approximately 7/1000s (.7%) of the U.S. adult population identifies itself as not belonging to the gender that appears on their birth certificate. Some or all of those seven people out of 1,000 are uncomfortable if the pronouns “he” “she” “him” and “her” are applied to them.
The Bad Solution
To ease this discomfort there appears to be a movement to terminate the use of the plural pronouns “they” and “them” as only referring to more than one person and instead using the plural pronouns “they” and “them” to also reference a singular person if that person is one of the seven people out of a thousand who is sexually indefinite.
So, if “Lee” is a transgender person and Lee entered the room, we are supposed to write, “They entered the room” in order to avoid saying “He entered the room” or “She entered the room.”
Sorry, but I’m calling this out as absolutely, completely wrong. Here’s why.
Singular Is Singular. Plural Is Plural
The word “they” conveys information to the reader about the scene being described. “They” is a plural pronoun that tells the reader that the author is referring to more than one person.
If two paragraphs ago three people sat at a table and the author wrote, “They sat down” and now, when only one person enters the room the author writes, “They entered the room” we have confused all the readers in order to cater to the potential discomfort of the seven people out of a thousand who are uncomfortable with the gender-specific pronouns “he” and “she.”
Writing “they” when referring to only one person destroys the ability of all the readers to know if the writer is referring to one or to several people. It removes important meaning from the text.
To me, unnecessarily confusing 1,000 readers to make seven of them feel better is a terrible tradeoff.
I say “unnecessarily” because there is another, better way, to deal with that discomfort.
A Better Solution
The solution is not to wreck the English language’s use of pronouns by contorting “they” and “them” into shapes they were never intended to hold, but rather to create new gender-neutral pronouns for use in situations where the gender of the person is unknown or indefinite.
Remember when women used to be “Mrs.” and “Miss” depending on whether or not they were married? Society solved that problem with the creation of a new term “Ms.” which was marriage neutral.
There is no reason why we cannot similarly create new, gender-neutral pronouns.
A gender-neutral Him — Her replacement could either be Hir or Hem:
“Lee was already irritated at not getting a bonus so I didn’t want to upset hem with the news that the company had filed for bankruptcy.”
“Lee was on the far end of the warehouse and I shouted at hir that the boss was on the phone.”
“Lee was on the far end of the warehouse and I shouted at them that the boss was on the phone.”
There is only one person at the far end of the warehouse. There is no them.
If you hate hem and hir, then use him/her, but not them.
A gender-neutral He — She replacement could be s/he or Hes:
“When the first human sets foot on Mars, s/he will usher in the true beginning of the Space Age.”
“When Lee entered the bridge hes gave the Captain a crisp salute.”
“When Lee entered the bridge they gave the Captain a crisp salute.” Only one person saluted. There is no they.
If you hate hes, then use s/he or he/she but not they.
Please Stop Misusing They & Them
Please stop mangling the English language by trying to jam he, she, him and her into they and them boxes where they just plain don’t fit.
Instead, build new and more appropriate containers in the same way we created a box labeled Ms. to contain both Mrs. and Miss.
My suggestion is that Him and Her go into a gender-neutral box called “hem” and that He and She reside in a gender-neutral box called “hes.”
And PLEASE stop calling one person They and Them. It makes me shout at the page, “There’s only ONE person there!” and I hate doing that.