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What's Your Pronoun?

Have you been asked what’s your pronoun? I have not been asked the question yet, but I’ve shared my personal pronouns (she/her) in the classes I teach. The learning management system for my copyediting courses offers a dropdown menu in the settings to choose your personal pronouns, if you’d like to share, and they will be included beside your name when you post on the discussion board.

I’ve always found language interesting and fun, but to be able to better understand it, its origins, and how to correctly use it will make me a more effective and respectful editor and instructor.

I enjoy sharing resources and enlightening others on some things I have read and learned from. The following are two resources that have made me think about personal pronouns more often than usual, but it’s so important for gender inclusivity.

What's Your Pronoun?: Beyond He and She, by Dennis Baron. Published in January 2020, this book is based on 40 years of empirical research and examines the pronouns that are alternatives to "he" and "she." The author has collected more than 200 coined pronouns going back to the 1780s and each one is documented by publication, date, and page number, as he wants his readers to find them too. His story is how we got from “he” and “she” to “zie” and “hir” and now singular “they.”

Some fun facts in the book:

  1. Singular “they” first appeared in 1794!

  2. Switching between “he” and “she” can drive editors crazy and confuse readers, but sometimes well-known people use both as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg did in a 2008 opinion.

  3. “It” was once a common pronoun for infants, but it’s rarely used today. As for adults though, “it” has been used since the 16th century as a way to insult, dehumanize, or mock a person.

  4. In the “The Politics of He” chapter, pronouns caused issues in elections in the early 1900s; one man suggested the adoption of “en” as a gender-neutral pronoun; and a number of states have rewritten their constitutions using gender-neutral language, some adopting “he” or “she” and others avoiding pronouns whenever possible.

  5. In 1850, “hiser” was coined as a blend of “his” and “her.”

  6. Gender-neutral and non-binary pronouns have been on Sephora ads and Oreo cookie packaging. Oreo had promoted “Pronoun Packs” for PrideFest in 2019 to celebrate inclusivity.

MyPronouns.org - People might make assumptions about the gender of another person based on the person’s appearance or name. Using someone’s correct personal pronouns is a way to respect them and create an inclusive environment, just as using a person’s name can be a way to respect them. This site explains why they matter, how you can use them, and how to use gender-inclusive language.

Besides “they,” which was Merriam-Webster’s 2019 Word of the Year, there are alternatives to using “he” and “she” when someone’s gender is unknown or when they are not simply male or female. "They" is not the only option. There are less-familiar pronouns such as “ze,” “zir” and “hir,” but singular “they” has become a pronoun of choice for many. It’s important to become familiar with other pronouns.

As Baron says in his book, even though some words may seem to include others, they may also exclude them. And not all languages treat gender the same way.

Say it with Steele, x C