1 EAGLETON NOTES: Their Them: A Question of Usage

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Friday, 27 February 2015

Their Them: A Question of Usage

I have a number of friends (there I go, boasting again!) who have an objection to the use of 'their' or 'them' when what is meant is 'his or hers' or 'him or her'.

Sometimes when a person (you know who you are - and no you are not a lawyer) speaks loudly (I was going to say shouts but that's going a bit far) at the television when a well educated person (frequently newsreaders) transgresses I try and make the point that it is invariably when the gender of the person is not known (or for legal reasons cannot be given) and in the middle of every newscast or sentence where that happens if the person was obliged to use the correct form then it would become cumbersome and intensely irritating for most of us.

I don't seem to be winning the argument. Do I have any support out there?

23 comments:

  1. Yes you do. Not sure my opinion counts though as English is not my first language! ;)

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    1. You supported me so of course your vote counted Monica. Actually as I know from playing Words With Friends (an on-line game like Scrabble) with you that you have as good as or better than vocabulary than I have.

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  2. Neither is it my first language. But you have my support, like Monica's!

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    1. Thank you Meike. I wouldn't like to challenge you in a language quiz - and the use of words has been my job.

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  3. Well, English is my first language, and you have my full support, Graham. The usage you describe avoids clumsiness, and is clear and (I think) correct. But I too have had some opposition!

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    1. Thank you Frances. I certainly value your support and would have been struggling if you'd come out against my proposition.

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  4. I think their usage is fine...:-) But I do object when someone suggests something is "almost unique".

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    1. "Free gifts" is another one I'm not keen on Mike.

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  5. In these days of gender fluidity I have had to learn to deal with people who outwardly change gender depending on their mood, are pansexual, and it's impossible to tell their real gender. The correct form is to refer to them as them/their at all times. No he, she or it options. Suspect your friend will be shouting a lot more at the screen in future!

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    1. You've brought a dimension to the discussion that hadn't even entered my head Fiona.

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    2. does my head in! I see facebook have recognised the problem - http://rt.com/usa/236283-facebook-gender-custom-choice/
      58 options already offered for gender and they still had to add the choice of writing in "other" !

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  6. I agree with Fi. In print, I've sometimes seen it written as s/he to cover all the bases, but that seems cumbersome. I just just "their/them" when appropriate and try not to worry about it. xoxox DeeDee

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    1. DeeDee I always love your straightforward down to earth attitude.

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  7. You know, I'm guilty of this error sometimes. Thanks for pointing it out.

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  8. We all love the Queen's English and I agree with you wholeheartedly but we have to be so careful these days that we don't offend anyone.
    These are the days where you have to be walking on eggshells when referring to "others", we have to take Fiona's point into consideration as well.

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    1. I'm rather afraid that that particular friend would take issue with you Virginia. He's a republican and though a keen supporter of correct grammar he's unlikely to use the term 'Queen's English'. Actually I think not offending anyone is a thankless and almost impossible goal.

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  9. Lots there.

    Should it not be 'when a well educated person (frequently a newsreader)' ?

    And people don't have a gender, they have a sex.

    I think the example you give is probably grammatically incorrect, but it does avoid clumsiness, as you say.

    My current mission (which does involve shouting at the television or radio) is to reinstate the plural form of the verb to be as in, there is holdups on the M6.

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    1. Marcel. Yes it should be as you suggest. I agree that it's grammatically incorrect in strict interpretation but it's a question of that which is expedient and concise in the circumstances. I could not agree more with your last point. That is simply a matter of bad grammar without a reason.

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  10. Oh I just spit it out be it right or wrong - life is too short to worry about such things. As long as it sounds more or less right just let it be. Let's face it - if I didn't have you across the valley to sort out my mobile phone problems,I would be in a sorry state anyway! See yer termorrer fer dinner over ere!!!!!!! x

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    1. Oh you are a one Spesh. You can argue it out with Marcel when he's next here.

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  11. "His or hers" and "him and her" can be quite awkward. "Their" and "them" are being widely used instead these days and I have no doubt that with the passage of the time they will become the norm. My advice regarding your pedantic chums is to lace their tea with rohypnol. At least "his or hers" recognises that 50% of the world's population is not male.

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  12. "His or hers" and "him and her" can be quite awkward. "Their" and "them" are being widely used instead these days and I have no doubt that with the passage of the time they will become the norm. My advice regarding your pedantic chums is to lace their tea with rohypnol. At least "his or hers" recognises that 50% of the world's population is not male.

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