He/she/it bites

July 24, 2008

For the “surprised it didn’t happen sooner” file:

The Massachusetts House of Representatives has given its initial approval to a bill that would require all future legislation be written in language that is gender neutral.

The one-paragraph bill says legislation should contain non-gendered phrases such as “he/she” or “his/her,” instead of following past practice and using the masculine pronoun by default.

Since most legislation applies to groups rather than individuals (and any law that doesn’t apply to everyone should be suspect) why don’t legislators just use the gender-neutral plurals “they,” “them” and “theirs”? Is there any clumsier construction in the English language that “he/she”?

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4 Responses to “He/she/it bites”

  1. Doug Says:

    Proposed legislation for the Indiana Code has been drafted in gender neutral language for quite awhile now, and there are ongoing efforts to clean up older parts of the code as they come up for revision for other reasons.

  2. Harl Delos Says:

    If you make everything plural, does that mean it is legal for an individual to murder an individual, and it’s only illegal if a group murders a group?

    Will there be group photographs on drivers’ licenses?

    There are female-specific words in the English language, but no male-specific ones that I can think of. They, them and theirs are plurals.

    He, him, and his are not male-specific, any more than “actor”, “surgeon”, “man” or “cop” is. Those words are already gender-neutral.

    I heard a proposal, nearly 4 decades ago, for a shorter version of he/she/it, but it was scatalogical.

  3. craig Says:

    There are linguists who are lobbying for use of “hu” as a gender neutral replacement for he/she.

  4. gadfly Says:

    One would think that one could compose a sentence without the use of pronouns, so the simpler, more obvious solution is to outlaw the little boogers altogether … or the legislature could simply declare them as “sexist”, thus rendering p-words ‘politically incorrect.”


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