May 13, 2009
BCS wrote:
> Hello Derek,
> 
>> On Wed, 13 May 2009 01:04:19 +0000 (UTC), BCS wrote:
>>
>>> Ah! One of my favorite qwerks of the English language, how to refer
>>> to a specific single someone of unknown gender without insulting
>>> them: "it"?
>>>
>> I hate it but what can I do?
>>
>> Use "they". Sure, its wrong but everyone knows what you mean. As in
>> ... "A good coder will write useful comments because *they* care."
>>
> 
> Yeah, much as I dislike it, you end up having to. And as someone else pointed out, "they" is actually correct (why, I don't know).

There is no "why" in linguistics, just "whence".
May 13, 2009
Christopher Wright wrote:
> BCS wrote:
>> Hello Derek,
>>
>>> On Wed, 13 May 2009 01:04:19 +0000 (UTC), BCS wrote:
>>>
>>>> Ah! One of my favorite qwerks of the English language, how to refer
>>>> to a specific single someone of unknown gender without insulting
>>>> them: "it"?
>>>>
>>> I hate it but what can I do?
>>>
>>> Use "they". Sure, its wrong but everyone knows what you mean. As in
>>> ... "A good coder will write useful comments because *they* care."
>>>
>>
>> Yeah, much as I dislike it, you end up having to. And as someone else pointed out, "they" is actually correct (why, I don't know).
> 
> There is no "why" in linguistics, just "whence".

Damn! Now that you mention it, it's actually true! Funny I never thought about it like that.

May 13, 2009
BCS wrote:
> Hello Derek,
> 
>> On Wed, 13 May 2009 01:04:19 +0000 (UTC), BCS wrote:
>>
>>> Ah! One of my favorite qwerks of the English language, how to refer
>>> to a specific single someone of unknown gender without insulting
>>> them: "it"?
>>>
>> I hate it but what can I do?
>>
>> Use "they". Sure, its wrong but everyone knows what you mean. As in
>> ... "A good coder will write useful comments because *they* care."
>>
> 
> Yeah, much as I dislike it, you end up having to. And as someone else pointed out, "they" is actually correct (why, I don't know). Also, in your case, it's the generic "they" and in one way of thinking, it *is* plural (as in there are many people that it can refer to) so it kind of sounds reasonable.

"why" in descriptive linguistics means "what most native speakers judge to be correct" (which is often different from "what textbooks like to assert is correct"). Basically, native speakers have an understanding of a language that may be different from any official "specification" of the language (just like DMD ;-P). This is why native Esperanto speakers tend to speak a slightly different version of Esperanto than the official one.

Some native speakers may judge "he" to be more correct than "they" (especially those in academia or snobby middle-class white socialites), so one or the other might be correct in different varieties of English.

I read a study (of Americans, probably college students at whatever university it was done at) that showed that the processing time for a sentence containing "they" for a singular unknown referent tended to be faster than the processing time for a sentence containing "he" in the same position for 90+% of speakers, even for speakers who believed that "he" was the correct choice. I'm too lazy to dredge up the study, but basically:

third-person "they" is easier to understand for native speakers!
May 13, 2009
BCS wrote:
> Hello Georg,
> 
>>
>> A serious point, however, is that (in my first language) Finnish, the
>> spoken language doesn't only *not* differentiate between gender, it
>> also /doesn't/ differentiate between humans and other instances (be
>> they living or inanimate!!!). You'd say
>>
>> "se meni ulos" -- {he | she | the dog} went out
>> "se putos" -- {he | she | the dog | a flowerpot | a brick} dropped
>> Contrast this to "modern, politically correct American English", where
>> one says "she" of the programmer, and "they" of any third person. The
>> latter of which is not only semantically + grammatically incorrect, it
>> also makes sentences cumbersome, but foremost, diffuses and murks up
>> the original intent of the author.
>>
> 
> Ah! One of my favorite qwerks of the English language, how to refer to a specific single someone of unknown gender without insulting them: "it"?


Yeah, you can't use "it", because that's really derogatory. I remember a movie (probably something with Meryl Streep), where this person referred to the spouse as "it".
May 13, 2009
"BCS" <none@anon.com> wrote in message news:a6268ff5b338cba14afe6aca70@news.digitalmars.com...
> I have more problems with singular they making it hard to exclude the plural than anything else. It's right up there with (but not as common as) some neutral statements being promoted to negative ones: "I don't like cheese" vs. "I dislike cheese", making it hard to state some things.
>

That's a *HUGE* pet peeve of mine. I get sooo frustrated when attempting make a neutral statement around people who just simply will not accept that neutral statements exist. Drives me absolutely crazy. "Suzie is not tall/happy/beautiful" does NOT mean "Suzie is short/unhappy/ugly" (or even mid-height/calm/average-looking for that matter), but most people absolutely insist in believing that everything is either one extreme or the other and just can't comprehend neutrality unless you very, very blatantly spell it out for them and prop everything up with boatloads of disclaimers.

A similar thing that also drives me absolutely crazy is when people take a *comparison* and automatically assume that absolute statements are being made about one or both of the things being compared. For instance, saying "Babylon 5 is worse than Stargate SG-1", does *NOT* imply "I dislike Babylon 5" nor does it imply "I dislike Stargate SG-1". But I have frequently come across people that have made both those assumptions when presented with a sentence in that form. Similarly, saying "Murder is better than genocide" does *NOT* imply "I think murder is perfectly acceptable." But a lot of people seem to be completely incapable of comprehending these distinctions.

Another note: Just because I used "Murder is better than genocide" as an example, does *not* mean that I'm actually saying that I consider murder to be better than genocide. And that previous sentence that I just wrote does *NOT* imply that I consider genocide to be better than murder, or that I consider them equal in severity. In fact, nowhere in this entire message have I (or will I) made *any* indication of my opinions on murder, genocide, or how they compare, or that I even have or don't have opinions on the matter, and it pisses me off that I frequently find myself needing to make qualifications like these just to prevent people from putting words in my mouth.

Regarding that last sentence in the previous paragraph, note that a lot of people would take that as me saying "I need to make this particular qualification because I think the people on this NG would be unable to correctly understand it without the qualification." And as per the whole point of my entire above rant, I'm not saying anything of the sort, or the opposite, or etc...

I hope all of the above serves as a good example of why people need to be able to make neutral statements and comparisons without the listener automatically assuming a bunch of extra garbage. Because when that happens, speakers are forced to turn perfectly simple ideas into an absolute mess of disclaimers and qualifications such as above. (Not that I'm saying I was forced to make such disclaimers in this particular case...etc...etc...)


May 13, 2009
Reply to Nick,

[...]

LOL

> I hope all of the above serves as a good example of why people need to
> be able to make neutral statements and comparisons without the
> listener automatically assuming a bunch of extra garbage. Because when
> that happens, speakers are forced to turn perfectly simple ideas into
> an absolute mess of disclaimers and qualifications such as above. (Not
> that I'm saying I was forced to make such disclaimers in this
> particular case...etc...etc...)
> 


May 13, 2009
On Wed, 13 May 2009 16:04:49 -0400, Nick Sabalausky wrote:

> "BCS" <none@anon.com> wrote in message news:a6268ff5b338cba14afe6aca70@news.digitalmars.com...
>> I have more problems with singular they making it hard to exclude the plural than anything else. It's right up there with (but not as common as) some neutral statements being promoted to negative ones: "I don't like cheese" vs. "I dislike cheese", making it hard to state some things.
>>
> 
> That's a *HUGE* pet peeve of mine. I get sooo frustrated when attempting make a neutral statement around people who just simply will not accept that neutral statements exist.


> A similar thing that also drives me absolutely crazy is when people take a *comparison* and automatically assume that absolute statements are being made about one or both of the things being compared.

I have the same personality disorder ;-)

But if people behaved as you suggested, then what would lawyers, politicians and union bosses be doing for a lot of their time?


-- 
Derek Parnell
Melbourne, Australia
skype: derek.j.parnell
May 14, 2009
"Derek Parnell" <derek@psych.ward> wrote in message news:163i1iantpbgs.1i0ruyoi9ogmo.dlg@40tude.net...
> On Wed, 13 May 2009 16:04:49 -0400, Nick Sabalausky wrote:
>
>> A similar thing that also drives me absolutely crazy is when people take
>> a
>> *comparison* and automatically assume that absolute statements are being
>> made about one or both of the things being compared.
>
> I have the same personality disorder ;-)
>
> But if people behaved as you suggested, then what would lawyers, politicians and union bosses be doing for a lot of their time?
>

I have a few things I could suggest to them ;)


May 14, 2009
Nick Sabalausky wrote:
> I hope all of the above serves as a good example of why people need to be able to make neutral statements and comparisons without the listener automatically assuming a bunch of extra garbage.

That's because some people actively look for offense.
Next ›   Last »
1 2
Top | Discussion index | About this forum | D home