I’m old enough to remember when ‘Ms’ was introduced so that women didn’t have to gratuitously announce their marital status to all and sundry. So I have no objection to our language being altered to serve a laudable political objective. And if members of the trans community were likewise simply asking the rest of us to adopt some third newly coined pronoun so we don’t have to gratuitously pronounce on whether we think someone is male or female, I’d be happy to comply. But what’s being asked by some social justice warriors is that
- we use the pronoun of the referent’s choice,
- a referent – I have to say ‘referent’ here because I can’t say he or she – is at liberty to alter that choice with the alacrity of the weather, and
- there are no limits to the pronouns available to the referent.
And by the way, if they do get their way, I think I’d like to be referred to as His Majesty.
This is clearly ridiculous. Every semester I have as many as 100 students. By the end of term, and with a little effort, I often can and do call each of them by name. But demanding that I memorize what pronoun each of them prefers – and demanding that each of the referent’s 99 peers do the same – is demanding the impossible.
Defenders of this stupidity argue that I’m just awfulizing. Only a few of these students will demand a non-standard pronoun, and there’ll only be a few such neologisms. This is the same assurance I’m given by the student who wants an extension. Surely no one else will ask for one. No, I tell her, everyone else will ask for one. So it’s everyone or no one.
So some people have decided to draw their line in the sand right from the get-go. (Insert link.) And in doing so they’re being vilified as Neanderthal bigots. Well, such are the wages of resisting stupidity.
My advice to them is: Don’t pay it! Subvert. Turn your branding into a badge of honour, as did blacks with ‘nigger’, gays with ‘queer’, and post-menopausal women with ‘crone’. Or just insist on being addressed as ‘Your Majesty’!
But such subversion shouldn’t be necessary. Look! In many Latin-based languages – French, Spanish, Italian, and so on – every noun takes either a masculine or feminine or neutral article. In Italian it’s la casa. In French it’s le monde. I’m sure some of these nouns resent the gender they’ve been assigned. If they don’t get a choice, why should you?