Thoughts About Gender Neutral Language

Language evolves. What’s appropriate today may be rude tomorrow. However, when language becomes unnecessarily complicated, I believe there should be a buck stopped here claiming “Enough.”

I’m talking about gender neutral language. Our society is on the track to rightfully embrace all people, all nationalities, all colors, and all sexual orientations. We have come a long way, but there’s still a long way to go.

Enter implications for language. The gender-neutral language movement is not limited to one community of people, though the majority of its supporters are of the LGBT community. More complicated variations are out there, but the most prevalent example of general-neutral language is the replacement of the singular, gender-identifying pronouns of he and she with they, them, etc. So what’s the big deal?

Consider:

Jeff packed up his lunch. They made sandwiches including peanut butter and ham.

Suddenly we lose clarity in what would otherwise be a perfectly ordinary series of sentences. Did Jeff pack his (their) own sandwich? Did someone else join Jeff? Do the two sentences relate or has there been some error in semantics? And so on – you get the point.

Ironically, I do “get” the angst of groups seeking to establish an identity and self-recognition. On the other hand, there are many other groups in society that do not request a grammar change that can fundamentally wreak havoc in our already over-complicated world. I for one not only balk at these potential meaning muddles, but also resent being told how I can and cannot use my language.

Nick DiChario

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