Traditional English is still, at least partially, a sexually
(The situation is worse in related languages, and much worse in those
related languages in which all nouns are genderized.)
The usual present form of English does not have a third-person
This absence of a sex- or gender-neutral and -transcending pronoun to
refer to 'a third person' forces the language user to choose either
from the masculine third-male pronouns he/him/his or from the
feminine third-female pronouns she/her in a context in which
(natural) sex or (cultural) gender did not, does not, will not and
cannot make any difference, according to the speaker or writer
People who do not consider every tradition sacred by definition have
objected to the forced use of the exclusively masculine and
exclusively feminine pronouns for various reasons, such as:
- the discriminatory asymmetry in the use of only the masculine
pronoun as a so-called 'generic' pronoun;
- its bothersome use when you, as a speaker or writer, do not
know a particular person's gender or the sex of a human or
other animal being;
- its discriminatory use when a person's gender or the sex of a
human or other animal being may be both masculine and feminine,
or neither the one nor the other;
- its forced irrelevantist or even
use in a context in which sex or gender is not (claimed or
believed to be) relevant.
The first three of these four objections have led traditionalists who
were willing to admit that the use of the masculine pronouns for all
people was partial to begin using the cumbersome he or she and
Others who were aware of the sexual irrelevantism in this
construction, and who recognized the fact that not everyone and not
every animal body need be exclusively the one or the other, began to
use the plural they in the singular to refer to an indefinite
person or human/animal being or, perhaps, also to a particular person
or human/animal being, regardless of sex or gender.
At the moment of creating the above poem (in the 75th year after the
end of the Second World War) they (with them and
their) is the alternative personal pronoun most frequently
used to go with or replace he and she.
they is not too awkward a pronoun in combination with
any, every and somebody or someone, its
use is monstrous when referring, or trying to refer, to definite
people and animal beings in the singular.
The they singularizers seem to totally forget that English is
'a number language', that is a language in which a speaker or writer,
as a rule, must distinguish the one from the 'many' (more than
one) with respect to almost all nouns and pronouns.
Even standard (Putonghua) Chinese, which in general does not
recognize number as a linguistic category, draws a distinction between
the singular and the plural in pronouns.
(In Chinese the standard nouns act like sheep, which may refer
to one, two or any other number of sheep.
The plural of pronouns, and some nouns, is formed by adding 们 or
men to the singular.)
All four reasons above play a role in the
Model of Neutral-Inclusivity
published 34 years before What the Sad One Said.
However, the fourth reason is typical of the role
relevance, and an
explicit principle of relevance, play in the Model, and which led to
the proposal and use of the singular pronouns 'e, 'im
and 'er by analogy with the plural pronouns they,
them and their.
in the first chapter of the
Book of Instruments.)
The new pronoun 'e is meant to be used if and when sex or
gender is (believed to be) irrelevant in the context concerned; if
and when sex or gender is (believed or suggested to be) relevant, and
clearly the one instead of the other, the pronouns he and
she can still be used to refer to males/boys/men and to
In other words, 'e is not by any means a replacement in the
language, but truly and relevantly an enrichment of
With this information it should not only be easier to fully understand
the poem What the Sad One Said, as published at the top of this
page; it should also be easier for traditionalists and they
singularizers alike to embrace a far better alternative.