Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN


January 16, 2012

Stumptalk: Everyone must bring his book

CROSSVILLE — It’s “Everyone must bring his book” not “Everyone must bring their book” because “everyone” is singular and “their” is plural. The rule: a pronoun must agree with its antecedent. Since “everyone” is the antecedent, the pronoun must be singular. Grammatical symmetry dictates this English usage rule. So, why do so many misuse the pronoun “their”? First, probably from ignorance, which is no crime. Unless someone (such as this writer) has a special interest in English usage, he probably will not concern himself with usage minutiae. Next, “everyone” as a singular pronoun seems counterintuitive to some English speakers, so they intentionally and unashamedly violate the rule. Then we have the politically correct reason: using masculine nouns and pronouns to refer to both men and women is sexist.  

The last reason for misusing “their” demonstrates continuing feminist insistence on political correctness (PC). Other PC examples include tone deaf words like “chairperson” and “foreperson.” One can envision the eventual replacement of “human being” with “huperson being” because “man” is obviously the source of evil in the modern world. “Man” and “mankind” have always been used to designate both men and women, but to the PC crowd these designations are sexist.

In a radio PSA about children and homework, the president of the Tennessee Education Association (the TEA, which is the Tennessee branch of the NEA) tells “a parent” about the importance of helping “their child with their homework.” Now, if the august TEA president is unaware of English usage rules, here is the correction: “It is important that a parent help his child with his homework.” If, on the other hand, PC is her problem — the TEA president is female — but she still wants to demonstrate knowledge of basic English usage (which she should — after all, she is a teacher), she can say, “It is important that parents help their children with their homework.” That construction maintains grammatical symmetry, plural pronouns (their) with plural noun antecedents (parents, children), while avoiding use of the dreaded generic male nouns and pronouns.

How did it suddenly become necessary to abolish the use of generic male nouns and pronouns to stand for both men and women? Major blame falls upon the late Kate Swift who wrote The Handbook of Nonsexist Writing, which the feminist community quickly embraced, and with which cowardly men have refused to argue. Many men, especially politicians, mainstream news anchors, corporate CEOs, and academics, would rather walk barefoot across burning coals than risk being called sexist, racist, homophobic, or the epithet du jour.

The worst result of linguistic political correctness has been upon church hymns and English translations of Sacred Scripture. Recent English translations with “inclusive language” have removed much of the poetry from the Inspired Word.

And by the way, feminists invented the sexist language notion. The use of generic “man” for men and women did not result from some male conspiracy to exclude women but from the etymology of “man.” According to Jacques Barzun, “the Sanskrit root ‘manu’ denotes nothing but the human being and does so par excellence since it is cognate with the word for ‘I think.’” “Woman,” says Barzun “is etymologically the ‘wife human being.’”

Fortunately, most men and women react negatively to PC “inclusive language” when it goes too far, as most attacks on cultural tradition always do. For example, most people completely reject sex neutral references to God because in that context inclusive language is like fingernails on a chalkboard; only PC people dislike referring to God as “Him.”

I doubt that in public discourse we will ever have to endure such constructions as “Founding Persons” for Founding Fathers or “Forepeople” for Forefathers, but readers should not be surprised if such constructions sneak into their children’s schoolbooks. PC cultural nihilism usually rules there.

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