sitting on the edge of the sandbox, biting my tongue

September 4, 2015

Alphabet Bottom Diggers

Filed under: education, politics — Tags: , , , , — edge of the sandbox @ 1:37 pm

I, for one, survived what was then known as a “co-ed” bathroom.  Those were the only ones available at Unit 2 Davidson Hall, an ugly, mid-century dorm where I found myself living when I started Berkeley two decades ago.  So gender-neutral bathrooms are not a new concept, you know.

Things were different then, however.  Nobody on my floor was “transgender” (albeit, thinking back we had one closeted homosexual — no really) and nobody insisted on being referred to in funny pronouns.  That was Berkeley in the 90’s and this is a school in the South today:

Gender-neutral pronouns

We are familiar with the singular pronouns she, her, hers and he, him, his, but those are not the only singular pronouns. In fact, there are dozens of gender-neutral pronouns.

A few of the most common singular gender-neutral pronouns are they, them, their (used as singular), ze, hir, hirs, and xe, xem, xyr.

These may sound a little funny at first, but only because they are new. The she and hepronouns would sound strange too if we had been taught ze when growing up. (Via Victory Girls)

It’s not that “the pronouns” are funny as much as they are off-putting, and if they are off-putting it’s not not so much because they are new, but because they are funny.  University of Tennessee students found them bizarre.  And yet, their professors are obligated to go around checking if any student always felt like a “xem” or, maybe, today it’s a bit of a “zir”.  Hmm…  Is the latter a Martian for sir?

I can sympathize with alphabet bottom ugliness.  I never had to deal with x’s and y’s, but like many other “Russians” living in English-speaking countries, I’ve been a victim of excessive y’s all my adult life.  In lieu of Cyrillic я Eastern European transliterators insisted on a ya letter combo, turning common female names into cumbersome Tanya, Anya and Zhenya instead of Tania, Ania and Jennie which flow noticeably better in English.  And since many of our female last names end with an , quite a few of us gals ended up aya contraptions, courtesy of Soviet/post-Soviet bureaucracy.  Typically, by the time we noticed that our names were spelled all wrong (and native-born Americans were no help, unfortunately) we were already established and it was too late to change.

Ukrainians in particular are the masters of the inelegant.  In the 90’s they insisted spelling Kiev as Kyyiv, which, in their opinion, best reflects the current Ukrainian pronunciation of the medieval capital.  They dropped one of the y’s, thankfully, and Infoukes swears it’s Kiev anyway.  It’s not up to Ukrainians to tell us how to speak English, and even if it was, they should find a more appealing way to promote their country abroad than to make up unreadable words that, in their opinion, are more authentic to the sounds of their language.

Similarly, words chalk-full of z’s and x’s is a dubious way to promote hormonal infusions.  If anything, insistence on applying funny names to themselves suggests that gender dysphoria might be secondary to some deeper dysfunction, and that a treatment for that dysfunction should replace “gender reassignment”.

In any event, the English language already has an English gender-neutral pronoun — he.  “He” can refer to both a man and a generic individual.  It’s a little outdated now, true, but it worked so well for centuries, we should see about brining it back.

And now, from the very top of the alphabet, Adam Ant singing about something at the bottom:



  1. My philosophy professor, in defending the use of “he” as a gender-inclusive pronoun, was fond of pointing out that “man, in general, embraces woman.”

    Comment by bluebird of bitterness — September 8, 2015 @ 2:11 pm

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