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Rosie Right

Pronoun puzzle

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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.

She

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

plausible)."

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

kidding.

True — adjective — correct, right



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

(355-9089), e-mail
href="mailto:repps@styleweekly.com">repps@styleweekly.com


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

Richmond, Va. 23230)

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