(Wiki) Singular they
I don’t like singular they.
Singular they is the use of they (or its inflected forms, such as them or their) to refer to an entity that is not plural, or not necessarily plural. Though singular they is widespread in everyday English and has a long history of usage, debate continues about its acceptability. It occurs in two main situations:
- Indeterminate gender – when they refers to an individual person of unknown or unspecified sex, as in, for example, “One student failed their exam”. This usage is known as epicene they.
- Indeterminate number – when they has no definite antecedent, or can be interpreted as referring to either a singular or plural entity. This usage is also known as generic they. For example, in “Anyone who thinks they have been affected should contact their doctor”, they and their are within the scope of the universal, distributive quantifier anyone, and can be interpreted as referring to an unspecified individual or to people in general (notwithstanding the fact that “anyone” is strictly grammatically singular).
In some cases, they is used even when both the number and gender of the subject are known, but the identity of the person is generic, e.g. “If some guy beat me up, I’d leave them.”
Whiskey (with an e) and scotch are the usual styles, but Scotch whisky gets special treatment; yet bourbon is lower-case, even though it springs from Bourbon County, Kentucky. The Reuben sandwich (for which dueling Reubens claim credit) keeps its capital letter, but the bloody mary, named for Mary I (or possibly Mary Pickford), is lower-case. Waldorf salad, after the hotel, is capped; graham cracker, for Sylvester Graham, is not.
Fillet and filet are another traditional bone of contention. Though they’re variant spellings of the same word, some editors have chosen to use fillet for fish and filet for meat. But not the AP: Here it’s fillet (“a boneless cut”) either way, except in filet mignon and, of course, Filet-O-Fish.
This is why people have a hard time learning English:
The Rich Man’s Burden
I open the envelope and read this little note written on a business card whose surface is so glossy that the ink, to the dismay of the defeated blotter, has bled slightly underneath each letter.
Would you be so kind as, to sign for the packages
from the dry cleaner’s this afternoon?
I’ll pick them up at your loge this evening.
I was not prepared for such an underhanded attack. I collapse in shock on the nearest chair. I even begin to wonder if I am going mad. Does this have the same effect on you, when this sort of thing happens?
Let me explain:
The cat is sleeping.
You’ve just read a harmless little sentence, and it has not caused you any pain or sudden fits of suffering, has it? Fair enough.
Now read again:
The cat, is sleeping.
Let me repeat it, so that there is no cause for ambiguity:
The cat comma is sleeping.
The cat, is sleeping.
Would you be so kind as, to sign for.
On the one hand we have an example of a prodigious use of the comma that takes great liberties with language, as said commas have been inserted quite unnecessarily, but to great effect:
I have been much blamed, both for war, and for peace …
And on the other hand, we have this dribbling scribbling on vellum, courtesy of Sabine Pallières, this comma slicing the sentence in half with all the trenchancy of a knife blade:
Would you be so kind as, to sign for the packages from the dry cleaner’s?
If Sabine Pallières had been a good Portuguese woman born under a fig tree in Faro, or a concierge who’d just arrived from the high-rise banlieues of Paris, or if she were the mentally challenged member of a tolerant family who had taken her in out of the goodness of their hearts, I might have whole-heartedly forgiven such guilty nonchalance. But Sabine Pallières is wealthy. Sabine Pallières is the wife of a bigwig in the arms industry, Sabine Pallières is the mother of a cretin in a conifer green duffle coat who, once he has his requisite diplomas and has obtained his Political Science degree, will in all likelihood go on to disseminate the mediocrity of his paltry ideas in a right-wing ministerial cabinet, and Sabine Pallières is, moreover, the daughter of a nasty woman in a fur coat who sits on the selection committee of a very prestigious publishing house and who is always so overloaded with jewels that there are days when I fear she will collapse from the sheer weight of them.
For all of these reasons, Sabine Pallières has no excuse. The gifts of fate come with a price. For those who have been favored by life’s indulgence, rigorous respect in matters of beauty is a non-negotiable requirement. Language is a bountiful gift and its usage, an elaboration of community and society, is a sacred work. Language and usage evolve over time: elements change, are forgotten or reborn, and while there are instances where transgression can become the source of an even greater wealth, this does not alter the fact that to be entitled to the liberties of playfulness or enlightened misusage when using language, one must first and foremost have sworn one’s total allegiance. Society’s elect, those whom fate has spared from the servitude that is the lot of the poor, must, consequently, shoulder the double burden of worshipping and respecting the splendors of language. Finally Sabine Pallières’s misuse of punctuation constitutes an instance of blasphemy that is all the more insidious when one considers that there are marvelous poets born in stinking caravans or high-rise slums who do have for beauty the sacred respect that it is so rightfully owed.
To the rich, therefore, falls the burden of Beauty. And if they cannot assume it, then they deserve to die.
— Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog (2008)reblogged via tiiigerstyle