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Rosie Right

Pronoun puzzle

Hearing this was a

pleasure to Rosie because she is constantly puzzling over

manuscripts that include such statements as: Every painter

should be careful when they choose their colors.


is almost throwing in the towel in the fight against the

plural pronoun.

Bill Walsh in his book "Lapsing Into a

Comma" gives us the normal alternatives: his or her, rewriting

the sentence in the plural (Painters should be careful … ),

alternating between the masculine and feminine pronouns, or

self-consciously choosing feminine pronouns. But of these last

two choices he says, "Ask a sensible editor and she'll tell

you these practices are silly."

Walsh, himself,

concludes, " Then how about enlisting they, them, their and

theirs as honorary singular pronouns in the fight against

sexist language? Well, maybe. Purists will be shocked, but I

find this less objectionable then the other alternatives."

The ever-permissive Webster's Dictionary of English

Usage tells us, "The lack of a common-gender and common-number

pronoun has been felt since at least as far back as Middle

English. The common solution has been to substitute the plural

they (or them or their); even Chaucer used this dodge."

Rosie was just about ready to agree, but she asked

Norm Goldstein, editor of the AP Stylebook, for help, and he

told her:

"I agree that using 'he or she' is extremely

awkward; this is a continuing problem because there's nothing

simple to use as a substitute.

"Copy editors shouldn't

be lazy, though. I recommend changing the sentence to the

plural and using 'they' or 'their' wherever possible (and


Uh-oh. Rosie was hoping for a solution

that would let her be lazy. Now what?

Talk the Talk:

More "Teen Speak" from ArtsandSciences, published by

the University of Virginia:

Playa — noun — a guy who

has many girlfriends.

J slash K — appreciation, just


True — adjective — correct, right

Let Rosie hear from you by telephone (358-0825) fax

(355-9089), e-mail

or letter (c/o Style Weekly, 1707 Summit Ave., Suite 201,

Richmond, Va. 23230)

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