Acknowledging the obvious


Remember when SJWs were harassed for promoting basic human decency? Of course you do, because they’re still getting that harassment. You’re just going to take some consolation in the fact that we’re winning. This is a sign from the Ecological Society of America.

See that? Smart scientists are telling you this is obvious.

Comments

  1. Kevin Karplus says

    My only objection to pronouns on name tags is that fonts are already too small on name tags—putting more information onto name tags will encourage even smaller fonts. I already can’t read most names on name tags unless I change glasses, which does not work well in social situations. Pronouns on web pages or in e-mail signatures are less problematic, because there is not such a strong space constraint.

    What good are the pronouns if they are too small for me to read them? Will people be offended if I use the wrong pronoun because I could not read the tiny font? It would seem like I’m being deliberately offensive, when the problem is just ignorance.

  2. PaulBC says

    I am a big supporter of singular “they”, which has overwhelming historical precedence. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Singular_they (And also of generic “you” instead of “one”, which sounds stilted.) I was a lot more pedantic when I was younger, but that was a long time ago. Both constructions are commonly used, learned at an early age, and sound natural in speech and writing.

    But pronoun preferences on name tags are fine too. I may just be too old at this point to really get it.

  3. PaulBC says

    (… and also of using “themself” for reflexive singular neutral gender, since it also sounds natural and emphasizes that the pronounce is singular)

    OK, well those are my pronounce preferences. I can also be called he/him, etc.

  4. dma8751482 says

    Personally, I would have thought that there would have been a push to create a (relatively) standard set of pronouns for non-binary/gender-nonconforming individuals at this point in time, if only for the sake of convenience and greater unity within the LGBTQ movement.

    My petty griping aside, this is a positive step forward which I am sure will be interpreted as a sign of some bizarre alliance between “the SJWs” and ecologists as opposed to a simple act of politeness.

  5. PaulBC says

    dma8751482@4 I thought I remember some advocacy for “sie” in the 90s on Usenet though I don’t remember the justification.

    There will never be a “standard” unless people use it. For example, Ms. was introduced as an analogue of Mr. that did not refer to marital status. Yet in practice, most of what it has done is supplant Miss. People still say “Mrs.” You can use Ms. and in some cases, marital status is indeterminate as intended. That’s a step forward, but I have seen, for instance with K-12 teachers (and this is the SF Bay Area), that it is at least somewhat common to call married women Mrs. and unmarried women Ms. (sometimes just as a matter of personal preference) It’s at best a partial success.

    Language habits are hard to change.

  6. tccc says

    OpenStreetMap US’s annual conference offers stickers with big print for one’s pronouns of choice.

    I was pleased to take one and put in on my conference badge, and took some extra for the conferences to do not offer the courtesy.

  7. brain says

    I don’t get which exactly is the proposal about pronouns. Can someone provide an example?
    Does it means, for example, writing something like “John Doe (him)” (or “her”)?
    Thanks.

  8. says

    hmm, while we’re acknowledging the obvious, stated pronouns seems like a band-aid kludge to me?

    @dma8751482, #4

    Personally, I would have thought that there would have been a push to create a (relatively) standard set of pronouns for non-binary/gender-nonconforming individuals at this point in time, if only for the sake of convenience and greater unity within the LGBTQ movement.

    Not sure about that, but always expect the world to be high entropy. It’s a mess. Even us leftists and activists etc. are still not very systemic in our thinking and efforts (despite always criticizing systems that surround us). :(

    @brain, #8

    Yup that’s how it is.

  9. flange says

    @brain 8
    I try to be a welcoming, non-judgmental person. But I share your confusion about “pronouns on name tags.” I don’t know what it means. I’ll be happy to do it, when I find out.

  10. chigau (違う) says

    All it means is using the person’s preferred pronouns any time you use a pronoun.
    eg
    Janice Doe was born in New York. He graduated high school at the age of 14. He started his first business when he was 16.
    or
    Bob Smith started doing gymnastics at her local YWCA. She is now a state champion.

  11. mikehuben says

    I’ve just returned to Ecuador from the Botany 2019 conference in Tucson. There, they distributed preferred pronoun ribbons for placement under the nametags. Large and legible. They also had an excellent Code of Conduct Policy.

    Shortly after, I attended the Biennial General Meeting of the Andean-Carribean Section of the International Union for the Study of Social Insects. Much longer name, much smaller group. :-) But they also adopted an excellent non-harassment policy.

    Some progress is happening!

  12. joeeggen says

    The American Astronomical Society started doing this at the large annual meetings a couple years ago. Opt-in and implementation were simple: simply show up and claim your badge as normal, then walk over to another small booth and pick out your preferred pronoun stickers. It wasn’t hard at all to read them.

  13. starfleetdude says

    “Please don’t shame folks for not including pronouns on their name tags.”

    That’s some Grade-A passive-aggressive talk there.

  14. PaulBC says

    starfleetdude@14

    I didn’t take it that way. How about “name tag pronouns are entirely optional and mainly for the benefit of the wearer”? I think it’s important to make the point that you can opt into this system but you shouldn’t use it as a litmus test.

  15. starfleetdude says

    @15

    The word “shame” in that sentence is doing more work than you realize. Kind of like the good ol’ southern phrase “It’s a shame about him” being a more than an uncritical observation.

  16. says

    Starfleetdude, you demonstrated your hardcore transphobic credentials in multiple other threads.

    Complaining about a trivially simple process intended to make trans and nonbinary folks’ lives easier is merely more of the same.

  17. says

    Ah. A pointlessly over-zealous filter that does not explain what it is doing. Censoring the word “𝐁𝐢𝐭𝐜𝐡𝐢𝐧𝐠” seems pointless in a nearly juvenile way, sort of the civility-over-content tactics of centrists.

  18. PaulBC says

    The old passive-aggressive meta-shaming gambit. Maybe.

    It’s become very commonplace to use “shame” as a verb in this way, and while in retrospect, it does seem to come out guns blazing accusing someone of a crime that hasn’t even been committed yet, it may just be a lazy way of expressing the point that name tag pronouns are optional.

  19. Ragutis says

    As a somewhat obtuse and relatively sheltered person, I can really appreciate this kind of thing. I’m awkward enough as it is in person. The less opportunity I have to inadvertently offend, the better.

  20. starfleetdude says

    @20

    The fact that “please” is used puts a finger on it, by placing the offense on those who for whatever reason don’t use a pronoun sticker to demonstrate their solidarity.

  21. PaulBC says

    starfleetdude@22

    At this risk of dragging it out further, I think you’re reading way too much into a simple notice that the name tags are there for information purposes and not judgment. In fact, if it is passive aggressive, it went so over my head in its n-dimensional chess way, that I would have just stupidly not put pronouns on my tag and not bothered myself about whether anyone else did. That is how I read it.

  22. says

    @Paul

    He’s just trying to find any excuse to denigrate the act at all. It’s just finding a way to be whiny about being the kind of guy who hates to do anything for trans folks.

  23. says

    … we can’t say 𝐛𝐮𝐭𝐭𝐡𝐮𝐫𝐭 either? What the other-wods-I’m-not-allowed-to-say happened to the filter in this place to make it ludicrous?

  24. zenlike says

    @starfleetdude,
    The please is not targeted towards the people who don’t use the sticker, it is targeted to the people who would shame those people.

    But I recognize there is no way to win:
    “Here are optional stickers with pronouns.” => “Waah, you are trying to shame people who don’t use those stickers!”
    “Please people, don’t be an asshole and shame people for not wearing a sticker.” => “Waah, you are passive-aggressively trying to shame people who don’t use those stickers!”

  25. starfleetdude says

    At this risk of dragging it out further, I think you’re reading way too much into a simple notice that the name tags are there for information purposes and not judgment.

    It’s not as if giving information in a passive-aggressive way doesn’t render judgment, in this case quite clearly on the side of empathizing with those who are offended if others aren’t wearing pronoun badges to make the space more welcoming. So it’s definitely a nudge to get along with the program.

  26. says

    no, it’s not passive aggressive. Instructions not to shame people are normal common things, and have never been passive aggressive. In that way it’s the opposite of those obvious cliche veiled threats that happen to contain the same language symbol.

  27. PaulBC says

    starfleetdude@27 OK, so lemme put it through the translator. It is really saying:

    [We know that it is only right and just to include pronouns on name tags and we know that you as a person of high virtue may be offended by the lack of pronouns on name tags, but] Please note that some [sadly benighted] folks [who are to be pitied, perhaps despised, but not feared] may choose [contrary to all that is right and good] not to put their pronouns on their name tag [despite our best efforts to show them the error of their ways]. Please don’t shame [these hideous, repulsive, deplorable] folks [at least not in overt ways that would attract negative attention to our program of enhancing virtue (come talk and we’ll offer some tips on how to do it right)] for not including [whether through pitiable ignorance or the worst kind of bigotry these essential and virtuous] pronouns on their name tags.”

    Sheesh, so much subtext. Why couldn’t they just come out and say it?

  28. starfleetdude says

    Instructions not to shame people are normal common things

    No, they aren’t common. Things like “respect the dignity of others” are common, but that is not the same thing as “do not shame” for goodness’ sake.

  29. says

    anyone can google the phrase “please don’t shame” and see you’re wrong. It’s mundane, you’re perceiving something that isn’t there.

  30. starfleetdude says

    @31

    Anyone can google a phrase and get positive results, so that’s certainly not sufficient evidence in support of your assertion.

  31. zenlike says

    @starfleetdude,
    Seriously? It was you who asserted that particular phrase had some hidden meaning that was intended by the writers. The burden of proof is on you. Your whining that the rejection of your assertion is an assertion in itself just makes you look like the average religious loon who trolls atheist websites. You can do better.

    @Brian Pansky,
    Funnily enough, my first page of results is all titles of opinion pieces saying things like “Dear XXX, please don’t shame me/us for YYY”. Apparently, all those people are passive-agressively asking that people shame… them? As I said, you can’t really win.

  32. PaulBC says

    “Do not shame” would have struck me as an odd way to put it 20 years ago, but it really seems fairly normal now. My first attempt to back this up with ngrams doesn’t support my case:
    https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=Do+not+shame%2Cdo+not+shame&year_start=1800&year_end=2000&corpus=15&smoothing=3&share=&direct_url=t1%3B%2CDo%20not%20shame%3B%2Cc0%3B.t1%3B%2Cdo%20not%20shame%3B%2Cc0
    Both “do not shame” and “Do not shame” (which would be an imperative with that case) have really strange historical cycles, and I wonder if that’s just an artifact of small samples.

    However if I do this on “shaming”, I confirm my suspicion that it started to trend up fairly recently:
    https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=shaming&year_start=1800&year_end=2000&corpus=15&smoothing=3&share=&direct_url=t1%3B%2Cshaming%3B%2Cc0#t1%3B%2Cshaming%3B%2Cc0
    with kind of a hockey stick inflection around 1983.

    But nobody said “Do not shame” when I was in college then. I now hear a lot more directives: don’t slut-shame, don’t fat-shame, etc. It’s generally considered a negative to “shame” people. Y’all are shame-shaming me! I’m the real victim here!

    FWIW, “shame” seems to have tracked down for nearly two centuries before making a slight comeback in the 1980s. I wonder what it all means (probably not much, but it’s amusing)
    https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=shame&year_start=1800&year_end=2000&corpus=15&smoothing=3&share=&direct_url=t1%3B%2Cshame%3B%2Cc0#t1%3B%2Cshame%3B%2Cc0

  33. PaulBC says

    zenlike@33

    And that guy who said “Don’t tase me bro!” was passive aggressively “asking for it.” I’m sure the cops would agree.

    Now I finally understand how to understand stuff. Every day is opposite day! Why didn’t I realize this before?

  34. starfleetdude says

    @29

    Sheesh, so much subtext. Why couldn’t they just come out and say it?

    I think the pronoun effort is a way for trans people to get other people to accept their transness by framing it as a matter of simple politeness, and who could be against being polite? It’s the assumption that not using said stickers is a rejection of trans persons that bears further examination, as in “if you’re not part of the solution then you’re part of the problem”. But what’s the problem? (Hint: it’s not with politeness at conferences.)

  35. chigau (違う) says

    abbeycadabra
    “b*tthurt” got on the list because a good case was made that it is homophobic.

  36. anat says

    starfleetdude @36

    I think the pronoun effort is a way for trans people to get other people to accept their transness by framing it as a matter of simple politeness,

    Is that a bad thing? BTW it is not uncommon for people to say they will in fact use a transgender person’s pronouns even when they privately disagree said pronouns are appropriate. So it is possible to be polite while transphobic. Nobody can force people to think decent thoughts, but it is possible to encourage decent actions (and criticize indecent ones).

  37. anat says

    ANB @38 IIRC back on LamdaMOO that kind of pronoun use was characteristic of a gender that was called ‘egotistical’. (And yes, I knew characters that went by it.)

  38. PaulBC says

    starfleetdude@36

    I “frame” it as a matter of simply minding my own business, which isn’t exactly the current framing, but it’s consistent with my beliefs over most of my life. If other people aren’t causing harm, then I have no business judging them.

    If turning it into a politeness issue helps to make transgender people feel more at home, so much the better. Not every attempt at persuasion is nefarious. (One of the more successful anti-smoking campaigns consistent of a young Brooke Shields saying “Yuck, I just washed my hair.” It was probably more effective than accurate information about getting lung cancer.) Also, it really is a matter of politeness to refer to people the way they would like to be referred. I still fail to see the problem.

  39. starfleetdude says

    @39

    It’s the framing of the issue of pronouns as being “if you don’t agree with my claim about my gender identity, you’re a bad person” that’s an issue. IMO, it’s not indecent if a male who claims to be a woman, but hasn’t transitioned or even adopted stereotypical feminine dress or mannerisms, doesn’t have their claim accepted at face value. It can even be rejected politely, as we reject other such claims that people may make about themselves. It’s making self-ID the one and only thing when it comes to gender that’s the agenda.

  40. bachfiend says

    I don’t oppose using a person’s preference of ‘he’ or ‘she.’ I do oppose the use of ‘they’ as the 3rd person singular pronoun for single identified persons, because it’s ambiguous. Is a person using ‘they’ referring to a single person or many people?

    If there’s a need for an non-gendered 3rd person singular pronoun, then one should be devised.

    I really can’t see the point of having ‘he,’ ‘she’ or ‘they’ on a name tag. If you’re close enough to the person to read the name tag, then the pronoun you’re going to be using is ‘you,’ which is non-gendered. In situations where you might need to be using the 3rd person singular pronoun, you’ll be too distant to be able to read the name tag.

    And in scientific meetings, you should be discussing the merits of ideas, not persons.

  41. jess says

    Chigau @ 11, what’s wrong with

    Bob Smith started doing gymnastics at the local YWCA. Bob is now a state champion.

    ?

  42. DanDare says

    I like conferences where you just put your first name in big, friendly letters on the tag. It feels wierd to me to be addressed as Mr. Stevens.
    However, if formality is being used then make the tags big and use a large font.

  43. anat says

    starfleetdude @42:

    IMO, it’s not indecent if a male who claims to be a woman, but hasn’t transitioned or even adopted stereotypical feminine dress or mannerisms, doesn’t have their claim accepted at face value.

    If I hadn’t known you have been around here on threads discussing these matters for a while I’d have thought you were a pretty confused person. Do you not realize that publicly claiming oneself a person of a gender other than the one you were assigned at birth is in itself an act of gender transition?

    Now, if the nature of someone’s transition process is such that at the time being their presentation is still perceived as consistent with their assigned gender, honest mistakes are more likely to happen (honest mistakes happen with some frequency with regard to anyone else; as a cisgender female person I was misgendered often enough as a child and a youth), but when people make honest mistakes they respond apologetically to correction, they don’t start telling people that they know who they ‘realy’ are better than the person themself.

  44. says

    I think the pronoun effort is a way for trans people to get other people to accept their transness by framing it as a matter of simple politeness, and who could be against being polite?

    Yes? Your objection is to … courteous behavior? Well, fuck you then.

    It’s the assumption that not using said stickers is a rejection of trans persons that bears further examination, as in “if you’re not part of the solution then you’re part of the problem”. But what’s the problem? (Hint: it’s not with politeness at conferences.)

    Dear god, please read #3. You’re complaining about a policy you clearly haven’t so much as glanced at.

    3. Please note that some folks may choose not to put their pronoun on their name tag. Please don’t shame folks for not including their pronouns on their name tag.

    I do oppose the use of ‘they’ as the 3rd person singular pronoun for single identified persons, because it’s ambiguous. Is a person using ‘they’ referring to a single person or many people?

    So your problem is counting?

    In situations where you might need to be using the 3rd person singular pronoun, you’ll be too distant to be able to read the name tag.

    Then perhaps you know too little about that distant person in general to be insisting on their gender. Get closer, introduce yourself, learn something about them, and then you’ll be qualified to gossip about them from the other side of the room.

    And in scientific meetings, you should be discussing the merits of ideas, not persons.

    Then ban name tags, titles, attribution on abstracts, and allowing individuals to present their work.

    Good grief, people come up with the most absurd excuses to avoid dealing with humans as people.

  45. anat says

    bachfiend @43

    I don’t oppose using a person’s preference of ‘he’ or ‘she.’ I do oppose the use of ‘they’ as the 3rd person singular pronoun for single identified persons, because it’s ambiguous. Is a person using ‘they’ referring to a single person or many people?

    Somehow many speakers of English manage with ‘you’ being both singular and plural.

  46. PaulBC says

    I do oppose the use of ‘they’ as the 3rd person singular pronoun for single identified persons,

    Well, you might want to take it up with Shakespeare as well as earlier English-speakers. There is precedent since at least the 14th century.

    because it’s ambiguous.

    I’m shocked–shocked!–to find ambiguity in human natural language.

  47. Pierce R. Butler says

    A part of me continues to feel startled whenever someone who prefers “they” in the 3rd person doesn’t say “we” in the 1st person.

    Don’t worry, maybe with therapy I’ll learn to cope.

  48. says

    36 and 42 proved my point that the objection was only transphobia.

    At least that guy does talk about other things, though. Not generally well, but he does do it.

    That jess person ONLY comments when there is an opportunity to shit on trans people, they are only a TERF troll.

  49. chigau (違う) says

    jess #44
    Nothing. But if one continues talking about the same person, the sentences get clunky.
    .
    Janice Doe was born in New York. Janice graduated high school at the age of 14. Janice started Janice’s first business when Janice was 16.
    That’s why pronouns exist.
    and it causes the speaker no harm to just use the desired pronouns.

  50. bachfiend says

    @ Chihuahua,

    How about ‘Janice Doe was born in New York, graduated high school at the age of 14, and started his/her first business at the age of 16.’ In this case, you’d need to know the person’s preferred pronoun to avoid offence.

    Using ‘their’ instead of ‘his’/‘her’ is just confusing. Did he/she start a business alone or with a business partner?

    Shakespeare might have used ‘they’ as a 3rd person singular pronoun, but NEVER for a single identified person. It’s perfectly OK to use ‘they’ with ‘someone,’ because ‘someone’ isn’t a single identified person. It was a very bad 19th century practice to argue that ‘someone’ is singular, and then to insist on ‘his’ as the appropriate pronoun.

  51. John Morales says

    bachfiend (back-finned):

    @ Chihuahua

    Who? Did you mean chigau?

    (Never mind pronouns, you can’t even get the name right!)

    Using ‘their’ instead of ‘his’/‘her’ is just confusing. Did he/she start a business alone or with a business partner?

    It’s irrelevant; either way, Janice did start a business at that age, which is the information being conveyed. And Janice is a ‘he’, which chigau made most clear.

    (Also, we are in C21, not C19)

    Basically, you can’t manage linguistic change, so you try to come up with justifications for avoiding it. Futile, really.

  52. PaulBC says

    You can fix ambiguity in the rare cases in which it is a genuine impediment to comprehension. (And not just “you” but anyone in fact.)

  53. bachfiend says

    @ John Morales (comment # 55),

    No. chigua didn’t make it clear whether Janice Doe was a male. Go back and read his/her comment.

    The 3rd person singular ‘they’ was perfectly acceptable until the 19th century when it was argued that ‘someone’ and ‘anyone’ are singular, so it became ‘anyone can succeed if he tries’ instead of ‘anyone can succeed if they try.’

    Don’t get me wrong. You should (you must) use the preferred 3rd person pronoun for transgender persons. And there should be a non-gendered 3rd person singular pronoun for non-binary gender persons. But not ‘they.’ I favour ‘dey,’ which has been suggested for German.

    I’d happily use it. I could have written ‘chigua didn’t make it clear that Janice Doe was male. Go back and read deys comment.’

    English is actually relatively non-gendered. A doctor can be male or female. A doctor in German has to be either ‘ein Arzt’ (male) or ‘eine Ärztin’ (female), with the corresponding pronouns.

  54. starfleetdude says

    @46

    Do you not realize that publicly claiming oneself a person of a gender other than the one you were assigned at birth is in itself an act of gender transition?

    You’re not assigned gender at birth, you’re assigned a sex. (There are intersex cases of course that are more ambiguous, but they’re a very small fraction of the total number of human beings.) That’s a biological fact which shouldn’t be confused with gender identity.

    Now about a public declaration being sufficient for a change of gender, I don’t agree. Any male could make such a claim but it’s not enough to go on. It does require some physical change as well, otherwise it’s just a claim.

    As for tomboys and such, why can’t there be girls who behave like girls that enjoy being physical, active, boistrous, etc.? As I see it the problem is how we’ve taken sexist gender stereotypes and insisted that tomboys would really be happier as men, while the truth is that there’s no good reason why they can’t be perfectly happy women just as they are. (See the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team about that.)

  55. John Morales says

    bachfiend @58, “chigua”? :)

    No. chigua didn’t make it clear whether Janice Doe was a male. Go back and read his/her comment.

    Her. She is a woman. And indeed she did so:
    “Janice Doe was born in New York. He graduated high school at the age of 14. He started his first business when he was 16.”

    The 3rd person singular ‘they’ was perfectly acceptable until the 19th century when it was argued that ‘someone’ and ‘anyone’ are singular, so it became ‘anyone can succeed if he tries’ instead of ‘anyone can succeed if they try.’

    Don’t stop there. Here we are in C21, and it’s perfectly acceptable again. Except for those whose reactance exceeds their tolerance for change.

    But not ‘they.’ I favour ‘dey,’ which has been suggested for German.

    The vernacular changes organically; many such a neologism has had its faddish moment and faded. Point being, your only substantive objection was an irrelevance; the locution could have included the information about which you were uncertain without pronoun changes.

    English is actually relatively non-gendered.

    Yes, English is gendered. Specifically, its pronouns. Which is the point.

  56. John Morales says

    starfleetdude:

    You’re not assigned gender at birth, you’re assigned a sex.

    Oh, come on, O disingenous one.

    Thing is, that assigned sex perforce determines the gender — were it otherwise, that person would become transgendered, which is not a thing, right? — and that gender, thus determined by the sex, perforce requires certain pronouns.

    That’s your real position. Contraindicated by reality, but still.

    PS I reckon the real fictive Starfleet would be a bit more tolerant than our current society.

    (Perhaps you’re misnymed)

  57. John Morales says

    [chigau, nymically, you are ambiguous. So was SC, but people men thought she was a man. Writing style, I suppose. But I blew your cover for good reason]

  58. dianne says

    If “they” cannot be singular, neither can “you”. Thou must use “thou” if thou meanst but a single person.

  59. bachfiend says

    @ John Morales,

    English is RELATIVELY non-gendered. English has ‘he’ and ‘she’ as the only gendered pronouns. Other languages have gendered 1st and 2nd person pronouns.

    It seems to me to be unreasonable that since the small minority of persons who think that there’s a need for a non-gendered 3rd person singular pronoun (which includes me) can’t agree on a form for one, then ‘they’ should be stolen from the majority who happily use ‘he’ or ‘she’ when appropriate. Hardly anyone is going to say that ‘John Smith made the greatest error of their life’ instead of ‘John Smith made the greatest error of his life.’ But ‘someone made the greatest error of their life’ instead of ‘someone made the greatest error of his life’ is appropriate.

  60. bachfiend says

    @ dianne,

    ‘They’ is plural. It refers to two or more people. ‘You’ is both singular and plural. It’s like ‘Sie’ in German, which is the polite/formal English ‘you’ (German also has ‘du’, singular, and ‘ihr’, plural, for the familiar English ‘you’)

    There really isn’t a need for different singular and plural 2nd person pronouns. When you’re addressing a person/persons it’s usually obvious whether you’re talking to one or more.

    There might be a need in English for informal and formal versions of ‘you,’ but I don’t think so.

  61. Rowan vet-tech says

    I’m almost 37 and they had been used as singular and plural my entire life and no one had ever had an issue when I use it in everyday speech. He or she is verbally clumsy, and discounts non binary people.

  62. John Morales says

    bachfiend:

    Hardly anyone is going to say that ‘John Smith made the greatest error of their life’ instead of ‘John Smith made the greatest error of his life.’

    Well, you did use the locution. But then, you’re hardly anyone, are you? ;)

    So. I get your grammatical concern, but semantically, there is no difference between the two locutions. Function trumps form, and if the purpose of language is to communicate ideas, both suffice. The context is that John Smith isn’t a collective entity, but rather a person.

    (Much of English relies on such unspoken context, FWIW — nothing unusual about it)

  63. John Morales says

    bachfiend, alternatively:

    Hardly anyone is going to say that ‘John Smith made the greatest error of their life’ instead of ‘John Smith made the greatest error of his life.’

    Well, if John is not male, then the former would be correct, and the latter wrong.
    If John is male, then both are correct.

    (Or: arguably there’s a gain, but there’s certainly no loss)

  64. John Morales says

    bachfiend:

    It seems to me to be unreasonable that since the small minority of persons who think that there’s a need for a non-gendered 3rd person singular pronoun (which includes me) can’t agree on a form for one […]

    It ain’t a matter of ‘need’, it’s a matter of practicality. Language should reflect the world as it is.

    Call it social lubricant, if you like. Politeness. Again, what is the harm?

    […] then ‘they’ should be stolen from the majority who happily use ‘he’ or ‘she’ when appropriate.

    In what sense is it stolen? Can that supposed majority no longer use those terms?

    (What exactly has been taken?)

  65. bachfiend says

    @ John Morales,

    ‘John Smith made the greatest error of their life’ could mean he made the greatest error of his and his wife’s life, instead of just his life alone.

    Avoiding ambiguity is important, not ‘political correctness.’ Ambiguity is a loss. There’s no gain in ambiguity.

  66. Rowan vet-tech says

    Your disingenuous despair over ambiguousness is noted and… I don’t really care. Many things are ambiguous. I would also have never once thought a sentence saying “John Smith made the greatest mistake of their life” to include multiple people… because life is singular, not plural, and you didn’t include anyone else in the sentence.

  67. bachfiend says

    @ Rowan,

    I don’t really care what you think either. And I’m not being ambiguous when I give my opinion.

  68. Rowan vet-tech says

    Your last sentence just now was ambiguous. I also never said you were being ambiguous in my previous post. I called you disingenuous.
    Are you willing to admit that the sentence of John Smith and their life altering mistake isn’t near as ambiguous as you claimed thanks to the word life instead of lives and the complete lack of any other persons?

  69. bachfiend says

    @ Rowan,

    You’d claimed that many things are ambiguous. I disagree, but I also think you should try to avoid being ambiguous. And I was also indicating that I’m not being ambiguous when I write that I don’t care what you think.

  70. anat says

    starfleetdude @59, you don’t get to decide what is or isn’t gender transition. There isn’t a check-list. There are many aspects of transition, and different people use different subsets of them in different orders as suits their specific circumstances. FYI in the USA it is entirely possible to legally change one’s gender on federal documents with no physical change.. And how would you know what physical changes anyone underwent? Are you into panty-sniffing or what? Most people wear clothes much of the time.

    And I have no idea why you have to confuse cisgender non-conforming people with transgender ones. Both exist and will continue existing. People explore the possibilities and find the best description for their individual situation. If you are confused by someone’s presentation, just ask them and follow their choices. (Though gender tags make it obvious.)

  71. monad says

    Singular they goes back centuries, and I’ve never heard anyone object to a sentence like “someone made the greatest mistake of their life” unless they were already complaining about it because of gender. So why does it become a problem now? It’s so easy to treat people with respect, and yet some people hate the idea so much.

  72. Rowan vet-tech says

    So you’re just gonna keep sidestepping the obvious markers that refuted your claims of ambiguity in the sentence of “John Smith made the greatest error of their life” hunh? Just gonna ignore that singular ‘life’ and no mention of other people? There’s that disingenuity I was talking about.

  73. brain says

    @47 PZ

    I do oppose the use of ‘they’ as the 3rd person singular pronoun for single identified persons, because it’s ambiguous. Is a person using ‘they’ referring to a single person or many people?
    So your problem is counting?

    Yes. While you can use the same pronoun for singular and plural, this can lead to confusion. Context usually helps sorting things out, but why adding possibility of misunderstanding? Clearer is better. As a non-native English speaker I’d much prefer to have a new specific pronoun. Using “they” just sounds…barbaric, if I can say so.

    Also, on pronouns on name tags: when the world was smaller we already had a nice way to let people know how to address us, it was called “name”. Personal names were mostly gendered, at least where I live: we should make name change a quick and easy procedure, so that everyone can chose a name that suits his identity. Still, pronouns could be a good idea in a multi-cultural world: I often receive emails from new colleagues from China, Korea or such and it’s pretty difficult to understand the gender.

    Last thing: can I say that hearing “Andrea” as a feminine name is something that makes my ears bleed, from a purely ethnological perspective?

  74. tardigrada says

    From a confusion standpoint I don’t oppose “they” but due to a lot of miscommunication with friends of my flatmate, I’d like to use a singular verb after (the friends always asked if they (my flatmate) were at home but we never knew if said friends knew that more than one person was upstairs). On the other hand, if it’s unclear, it doesn’t take much effort to resolve, so it’s not worth too much discussion for me. “You” can be extremely confusing too if you don’t know if the one talking just means you personally or the group your belonging to (ever been invited to something and didn’t know if that includes your significant other too? Same problem as with they)

    As for pronoun tags: I don’t get the problem people have. The name itself is a self-identifier but no-one seems to have a problem with that. Growing up with an unusual name, I really hate it when someone butchers that which is why I go by a nickname almost everywhere – and it doesn’t even come with any social expectations. I can only imagine how much worse it is if people continuously apply a social norm to you that isn’t at all who you are. It’s bad enough if people expect me to like certain colours or hobbies/movies/books/whatnot and that doesn’t even hit the core of the understanding of myself.
    Seriously, accepting someone’s identity impacts me less than friends telling me that they can’t eat something – and I would go out of my way to accommodate that. So why make a fuss about something that’s so easy to do and helps others so much. Just treat it like someone telling you their name and get over it.

  75. Saad says

    starfleetdude, #42

    It’s the framing of the issue of pronouns as being “if you don’t agree with my claim about my gender identity, you’re a bad person” that’s an issue. IMO, it’s not indecent if a male who claims to be a woman, but hasn’t transitioned or even adopted stereotypical feminine dress or mannerisms, doesn’t have their claim accepted at face value. It can even be rejected politely, as we reject other such claims that people may make about themselves.

    The fucking arrogance here…. who else can decide whether a person is a man or a woman other than the person? What do you mean “have their claim rejected?” On what basis do you have the nerve to reject someone’s “claim” about their gender?

    A woman doesn’t have to adopt “stereotypical feminine dress or mannerism” to be a woman. What the fuck is wrong with you?

  76. says

    starfleetdude@#59

    As for tomboys and such, why can’t there be girls who behave like girls that enjoy being physical, active, boistrous, etc.? As I see it the problem is how we’ve taken sexist gender stereotypes and insisted that tomboys would really be happier as men, while the truth is that there’s no good reason why they can’t be perfectly happy women just as they are. (See the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team about that.)

    There can be girls who behave like girls that enjoy being physically active, and boisterous. There can be women who behave in stereotypically masculine fashion. For example, butch lesbians are women, who perceive themselves as women while simply adopting a more masculine dress style. It’s perfectly fine for cis women to pursue a masculine dress style or lifestyle.

    That being said, there’s a key difference between trans men and masculine cis women. I’m female assigned at birth, but I have chosen to live as a guy. I use a male name (Andreas is a German male name). I use male pronouns. I do not have a female gender identity. I do not want to live as a woman, I don’t want to be treated as a woman. I’m a person who was unlucky to be born with the wrong body, but I’m not a woman. By insisting that “I should be perfectly happy as a woman just as I am” you are being incredibly rude towards me. And, no, I cannot be happy as a woman.

    You are saying that a person who was female assigned at birth can be athletic, she can pursue stereoptypically masculine careers, she can ever wear male clothing. Simultaneously, you are drawing a line by saying “she can be only this masculine, but not a step further.” An AFAB person must have a female gender identity, they cannot use male pronouns, they cannot use a male name, they cannot take testosterone and obtain gender reassignment surgeries. Thus you are still enforcing femininity upon people who do not want to be feminine or live as women.

    By the way, I wouldn’t want to be a member of a women’s soccer team. I’m not a woman. I’m not interested in competing against women. Nor do I like female-only workplaces. Whenever I’m forcefully sent to women’s spaces, I feel like I don’t belong there, like I’m an imposter.

    @ John Morales

    Actually, English is relatively OK when it comes to gender neutrality. Many other languages are so much worse. Russian or Latvian, for example. Verbs and adjectives have different forms based on whether they refer to a male or a female being. For example, let’s consider a sentence “this cat is beautiful” in Latvian.
    “Šis kaķis ir skaists.” This sentence refers to a male cat.
    “Šī kaķene ir skaista.” This one refers to a female cat.

  77. John Morales says

    Andreas, I know. My native language is Spanish. La cuchara, el tenedor, etc. Grammatical gender. Honor culture, even.

    Point being, when you note that “Actually, English is relatively OK when it comes to gender neutrality”, it logically entails that English is not absolutely OK. Only comparatively.

    Which, again, is the very issue at hand. People just plain don’t like being misgendered — you yourself expressed that sentiment.

  78. dianne says

    @66: Nope. “You” is plural, the equivalent of Ihr. Thou is singular. Historically, “you” is far more identified with plural than “they” is with singular. Shakespeare used the singular “they” (and singular thou/plural you) so unless you’re going to claim to be better with the English language than Shakespeare, which your writing does not support, you’re going to have to give this one up.

  79. dianne says

    Avoiding ambiguity is important, not ‘political correctness.’ Ambiguity is a loss. There’s no gain in ambiguity.

    Must avoid ambiguity. In English. BWAHAHAHA! Good one! I must conclude that bachfiend is either a linguist pulling a clever poe on us or doesn’t know any English and is running all their comments through google translate before sending them. English. Ambiguity must be avoided. Oh, dear!

  80. dianne says

    And I won’t even get into the claim that ambiguity is a loss. Interesting choice of words. A loss rather than loss, implying that a specific thing is lost, not that there is general loss from ambiguity. Hard to translate into Irish Gaelic, though.

  81. says

    John Morales @#84

    it logically entails that English is not absolutely OK. Only comparatively.

    Of course, “comparatively” is what I had in mind.
    Fixing the problems with English would be relatively easy. It would “only” take all the transphobic people to just accept that it’s possible to use some gender neutral pronoun.
    Looking at how hard it is for English-speakers to fix this comparatively simple problem makes me feel hopeless about all those other languages where the gender problems are so much more complicated. For example, in my native language it is inherently impossible to talk about some person in a gender neutral way, and I see no way how to fix that.

  82. John Morales says

    [PS Andreas, note the locution @76 above: “you don’t get to decide what is or isn’t gender transition.” — the sentiment is clear, no? Idiomatic, but.

    Remember? :)]

  83. John Morales says

    Andreas,

    For example, in my native language it is inherently impossible to talk about some person in a gender neutral way, and I see no way how to fix that.

    Indeed.

    Genderism is deeply embedded in our languages, and Engilsh is one of the better ones.

    (Something I noted decades ago, and so surpassed because I was aware of it)

  84. says

    Speaking of ambiguity in general, it’s so ever prevalent in every natural human language that you cannot use “we shouldn’t use ambiguous words, because those reduce clarity” as an excuse against using singular “they.”

    For example, in Swedish it is impossible to just say “grandmother,” instead there are two words—“mormor” means “mother’s mother” and “farmor” means “father’s mother.” English-speakers are perfectly happy to use an ambiguous word like “grandmother.” The same English-speakers are unhappy to use an ambiguous word “they.” How comes? I’d say that the supposed defense of linguistic clarity is simply an excuse for transphobia. Ambiguous words are perceived as perfectly fine in every other imaginable context, but ambiguous words are somehow bad when a gender nonconforming person wants to use one.

  85. John Morales says

    [FWIW, I personally give credence to a weak version of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis — cf. Orwell’s Newspeak — so that embedding matters for me. I try to subvert it however I can]

  86. says

    John Morales @#89

    [PS Andreas, note the locution @76 above: “you don’t get to decide what is or isn’t gender transition.” — the sentiment is clear, no? Idiomatic, but.

    Remember? :)]

    Yep, I remember. I suspect that on that discussion thread a transphobe purposefully tried to misinterpret what I meant to say in order to pretend to be the victim.

  87. Silentbob says

    @ 71 bachfiend

    Avoiding ambiguity is important, not ‘political correctness.’

    @ 87 dianne

    I won’t even get into the claim that ambiguity is a loss.

    More absurd is the claim that “political correctness” is less important. As has been pointed out elsewhere, bachfiend’s assertion can be accurately translated as, “Avoiding ambiguity is important, treating people with respect is not”.

  88. cvoinescu says

    Once again, they managed to derail a thread into the weeds.

    The point was absolutely not whether singular they was grammatical, or ambiguous (seriously?! from a language that doesn’t distinguish hot-as-in-very-warm from hot-as-in-pepper? Or even pepper (Piper nigrum) and pepper (Capsicum spp.)?). And yes, other languages have it far worse than English from this point of view, but what kind of Dear Muslima argument is this?

  89. says

    cvoinescu @#95

    And yes, other languages have it far worse than English from this point of view, but what kind of Dear Muslima argument is this?

    The fact that other languages have much bigger problems indicates that English-speakers should solve their gender neutral pronoun issue quickly and without making a fuss. Just settle upon some gender neutral pronoun and use it consistently. That’s easy. English-speakers shouldn’t complain about ambiguity or how it’s oh so hard to settle upon a single pronoun. For an actually hard linguistic problem people would have to look elsewhere at other languages.

  90. anat says

    John Morales @89 and Andreas Avester @93: For clarification: My intention was to say that starfleetdude lacks the authority (legal and social) to determine who has ‘sufficiently’ transitioned. In their mind they can obviously think whatever they like, however ridiculous or disgusting such thoughts might be, see my post @39.

  91. says

    anat @#97

    A few days ago, in this comment thread https://freethoughtblogs.com/pervertjustice/2019/07/29/gender-critical-moral-bankruptcy/ at #9 I used the exact same sentence construction. A transphobe responded by insisting that I’m abusing them by trying to police their thoughts.

    I and John Morales have been referring to this discussion and where it went.

    My intention was to say that starfleetdude lacks the authority (legal and social) to determine who has ‘sufficiently’ transitioned.

    Of course, that is obvious from the context. It’s just that you used a phrase that could be deliberately misinterpreted by some transphobes who are purposefully looking for ways how to misinterpret other people’s words. At least this is what happened when I used the same phrase a few days ago.

  92. anat says

    On ambiguity: “we’ is an ambiguous pronoun. The only thing certain is that it refers to the speaker and at least one more person. But does it include the listener or not? At least one language I have heard of makes that distinction. I suppose all those objecting to the ambiguity of singular ‘they’ will now come up with at least 2 different versions of first person plural pronouns to avoid this ambiguity?

  93. PaulBC says

    My takeaway: using a potentially ambiguous grammatical construction is nearly as foolhardy as not being prepared with an AR-15 when 30-50 feral hogs suddenly show up on your lawn.

    It could really be life-or-death whether your listener does not know if you mean singular or plural, and you will have at best 3-5 seconds to clarify what you meant. Thank God every other construction in the English language is entirely unambiguous.

  94. says

    Starfleetdude, Bachfiend:

    I get the message. It causes you intense pain to have to conform your deep beliefs about grammar and Shakespeare and plurals and singulars to accommodate the polite requests of others. As a bona fide SJW, I feel for you. It must be a terrible agony, that you can’t demand that others oblige your perspective. I need to help you.

    To that end, never engage in any comment thread about trans issues ever again. You are constitutionally incapable of dealing with the subtle matters of “consent”, “respect”, and “human dignity”, and I’d rather not watch you faceplant over them ever again. If you can’t restrain yourself, you will be banned, which will more thoroughly prevent this dreadful harm to your brains.

  95. PaulBC says

    Pronouns nearly always bring in the potential for ambiguity, and yet we live. Bear with me, because I spent some time working out this example. Take two sentences in reasonably idiomatic conversational English:

    “Sam baked Andy a chocolate cake, because it was his specialty.”
    “Sam baked Andy a chocolate cake, because it was his birthday.”

    The only difference is the last word, right? But we can work out a lot based on semantics and background knowledge. Sam is the one baking the cake. That part is clear, and that the cake is for Andy. So “his” in “his specialty” probably refers to Sam. It would be strange if it was Andy’s specialty (but maybe both are bakers and he wanted to impress his friend; ambiguity!). On the other hand, “his” in “his birthday” probably refers to Andy, because it is conventional to bake a cake for someone on their birthday (ouch–I just used singular ‘they’ and wasn’t even planning to). But who knows, maybe Sam celebrates his birthday by baking cakes for other people. No law says he can’t.

    Or maybe you happen to know that Sam is Samantha or Andy is Andrea (who we assume for the sake of argument are women.) Then again, maybe “his” is Andrea’s preferred pronoun.

    A couple of other notes on the most obvious interpretation: In the first case “it” refers to the cake. In the second case, “it” could refer to the day or just be an idiomatic construction like “It’s hot out.” It does not refer to the cake. And the subordinate clause explains something subtly different. In the first case, it explains why it was a specific kind of cake. In the second, it explains why Sam did Andy any sort of favor at all.

    In clear writing, it’s important to keep the pronoun close to the noun it refers to. So I guess you could argue pedantically that nobody should put “Andy” between “Sam” and “his” in the first sentence.

    But in conversation, virtually nobody is going to work that out ahead of time, and the listener is almost certainly going to get the meaning correct. Someone who was not a native speaker and did not understand “specialty”, “birthday”, or the cultural significance of these concepts would have a hard time, and people really do when learning any language.

    This formulation would also be terrible for technical writing. In technical writing, you might need to repeat nouns where pronouns could otherwise suffice. You should also stay within a standard vocabulary and resist the urge to use different terms for the same thing just to add color. Most natural language expression is not technical writing, and a certain amount of grammatical ambiguity has to be tolerated.

    Getting back to name-tags at a conference, it’s clear that these are expressly intended for conversational use. People at the conference will probably make several ambiguous statements every time they are engaged in a long conversation. But they’ll deal with it. Handling ambiguity in language is one of the things we are wired to do very well.

  96. PaulBC says

    (Sorry for above troll-feeding. This thread is a bit long in the tooth anyway. Language ambiguity is an interesting topic, but not an excuse for anything.)

  97. says

    @ 101 PZ

    I will be fascinated to see if that works. Honestly curious – has there ever been an instance of someone getting this sort of warning and NOT immediately ramming their face against it like a defiant housefly and getting, well, swatted?

  98. brain says

    @103 PaulBC

    On the other hand, “his” in “his birthday” probably refers to Andy, because it is conventional to bake a cake for someone on their birthday (ouch–I just used singular ‘they’ and wasn’t even planning to)

    If these are the situations where the singular “they” would be used, then it’s not so bad. The whole stuff probably sounds weird to me because in Italian we don’t have “his/her/its”: “suo” fits every gender (of the subject, at least).

  99. rq says

    (Andreas @88

    For example, in my native language it is inherently impossible to talk about some person in a gender neutral way, and I see no way how to fix that.

    Ventiņu izloksne? Verb conjugation also simplified. Now to convince everyone this is a good idea…)

  100. Saad says

    bachfiend,

    I’m arguing that English DOES need a non-gendered 3rd person singular pronoun, but that ‘they’ should not be coopted as it.

    It has been used as a singular for centuries.

    So what’s your argument against it now?

    You might have noticed that my favorite personal pronoun is ‘you.’ Using the 3rd person pronoun for people present is excluding them. Using ‘you’ is including them in the conversation. Excluding people, in my opinion, is worse than misgendering them, bad though it is.

    You think referring to someone as him or her is excluding them? And how does “you” make sense as a third person pronoun? If someone asked you where is Saad, you would answer “You are on your computer”?

  101. PaulBC says

    bachfiend@110

    I really can’t see the point of having preferred 3rd person pronouns on name tags at meetings.

    Has it occurred to you that only the ones putting pronouns on their name tags need to see the point? Why not just accept that people have a clear personal preference and respect that preference?

    I doubt very much that the English language “needs” anything new. Every language is “missing” something. I spent a few years trying (unsuccessfully) to learn Chinese along with my kids. Putting aside the writing system and tonal pronunciation, certain things are very simple. For one, there is no verb tense. Somehow it has never prevented Chinese people from expressing complex thoughts about past, present, and future.

    It was at the point where I was most happy with the simplicity that I found out about “measure words”. I don’t remember any, but roughly speaking, when you say “a snake”, you use the form of “a” for long squiggly things, and when you say “a grain of rice” you use the form of “a” for little seed-like things. It was a relief to find something even crazier than the complexity of Latin declensions I learned (with at most partially success) by wasting hours of class-time in high school taking that as an elective (why?).

    Natural language is richer than the formal grammars we attempt to create to describe it, and thankfully, we’re well passed the level of denial that reached its peak in the 19th century. It is sometimes good to know exactly what somebody means, but that is the time to start formalizing claims with mathematics and predicate logic. In conversation, we get by very well using our innate language-processing ability.

  102. says

    Kevin Karplus #1 –

    There’s an easy alternative to text on name tags. Create a system similar to ColorAdd (for Colour Vision Deficiency) placing lines on the border. For example:

    he/him: solid line on the left border
    she/her: solid line on the left border
    they/them: solid line on the left and right borders

    Lines (or absence of lines) along all four border would indicate pronouns without using words. And those who don’t want any lines wouldn’t have to have any.

    The only pronoun I have trouble with is “we/us” when used by monarchs and popes. But if gender fluid and bigender people start using it, I’ll respect them.

  103. Hale Hardy says

    SJW are getting harassed? Good, that is karma for all the crap those creeps flung at others. This isn’t about treating people decently, just like this blog isn’t about free speech or thought.
    This whole pronoun flap is narcissistic pettiness to the nth degree, only a tiny brain can take it seriously. It reminds me of how commoners were supposed to address lords in the third person when they were allowed to speak to their betters.
    If one is trying to impersonate the opposite sex, shouldn’t he or she want to use the pronouns associated with that sex?

  104. PaulBC says

    Hale Hardy@115
    “only a tiny brain can take it seriously”

    Well, you seem to take it seriously enough to perceive it as something worth fighting over.

  105. zenlike says

    Someone saw there were some banhammers flying around and desperately wanted some of that action, apparently.

  106. says

    Hale Hardy. A real name, or intentionally chosen initials?

    I received an inane comment from HH about a trans issue post. Never approved it and won’t.

  107. PaulBC says

    Virginia Tech… where the third deadliest mass shooting in US history took place in 2007. Sad, but it’s the price we pay for Freedom™.

    But… pronouns! Pronouns are the real killer.

    Note that I wouldn’t necessarily recommend avoiding Virginia Tech based on a single incident. On the other hand, when it’s time for my son to go to college in a few years, I may just redline entire sections of the country based on lax gun laws. A state where a guy can walk around “double-checking the 2nd amendment” https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2019/08/walmart-gun-white-man-double-checks-second-amendment.html and not be perceived as a threat requiring immediate action (justifying deadly force, though I’m happy it was not used) is not a state where I want to live or would send my kids.

    (And yeah, he’ll be 18, an adult, and it is ultimately up to him.)

  108. PaulBC says

    anat@120

    Nobody expected the event to begin with prayer or the Pledge of Allegiance — heavens, no! But one might expect to remember the names of fallen cadets on the pylons or the 32 dead and 17 injured in the 2007 shooting on Virginia Tech’s campus, the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history.

    I know. It’s a real shame when you can’t find the pony in the shit-pile. Here we have a bumper crop of “fallen cadets” to celebrate and didn’t even need a war for it. Heck, bring on the shootings!

    Nope. Instead, the administration made the stunning choice to open orientation by recognizing two Native American tribes on whose land the college was built (with the implication that it was stolen).

    Because, you know, “implying” obvious facts is just not something good people do.

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