From Discover Magazine’s article People Have Used They/Them as Singular Pronouns for Hundreds of Years:

Battles of grammar, for the most part, play out in English classrooms and in the pages of style guides. Rarely do arguments over split infinitives and Oxford commas venture beyond the walls of academia.

My first thought at this point was that whoever wrote this article definitely doesn’t have my circle of online friends. Oxford commas in particular are a regular source of entertainment, especially the amusing images produced when the Oxford comma isn’t used. And while there certainly are academics among my friends, such posts definitely aren’t limited to that group.

But one linguistic phenomenon lands in the limelight every so often, and it’s a word you know well: the pronoun “they” — along with its derivatives “them” and “their.”

I don’t really expect that I have many–if any–regular contacts who are still prescriptivist about singular “they”; in my circles, it seems to be at or near universal acceptance. But this was still an interesting look into its history and usage.

Kirby Conrod, a linguistics professor at the University of Washington whose own personal pronouns are they/them, polls students each semester to assess their feelings about this specific usage of the word. Most have no objection; some, especially those who grew up using singular “they” with nonbinary friends, are simply confused — why would the professor ask about such a mundane word? “It’s really already hit the threshold of this critical mass,” Conrod says. “It’s part of the language enough that I don’t think you could squash it if you tried.”

Sometime between April 12th and April 15th, I thought this stuff was interesting. You might think so too!

Sometime between 13:25 and 16:32 on March 30th, I thought this stuff was interesting. You might think so too!

  • The Male Power Fantasy (and why Mad Max and Captain Kirk don’t fit): This relates to a theory I have, which is that the archetypal Western Male Hero is James Bond, to the degree that people (Mainly straight white men) start to see every Western Male Hero as James Bond. Which is to say an aggressively masculine, quip-spitting, hyper violent womanizer. The ultimate Male Power Fantasy. A new supermodel love interest (or two) every film, a gun in his hand, and no consequences for his actions.
  • So many biological genders: If anyone tells you that there are 2-3 sexes in the world I want you to just go ahead and slap them.
  • Fight Club and toxic masculinity (with a side of Mad Max: Fury Road): Hold up – you mean there are people who watch Fight Club and don’t realise that Tyler Durden is meant to be full of shit?
  • Geisha FAQ: Please do not spread misconceptions about these hard-working women artists. They deserve respect and have persevered for centuries with women at the forefront of these professions.
  • Earth is dangerous: I really want a science fiction story where aliens come to invade earth and effortlessly wipe out humanity, only to be fought off by the wildlife.
  • Of privilege and nostalgia: The reality is, there was never a time when everyone could just enjoy things. To be able to say you had that time is to admit the privilege you had at not having to think about problematic behavior because it didn’t negatively affect your life.
  • To everyone else in the galaxy, all humans are basically Doc Brown.: Random Headcanon: That Federation vessels in Star Trek seem to experience bizarre malfunctions with such overwhelming frequency isn’t just an artefact of the television serial format. Rather, it’s because the Federation as a culture are a bunch of deranged hyper-neophiles, tooling around in ships packed full of beyond-cutting-edge tech they don’t really understand.
  • Snarky but amusing and thorough Romeo and Juliet analysis: SUMMARY: Romeo and Juliet is a stunningly rich play that is mostly about how feuds fuck people over badly and how if you have to wait until YOUR KIDS OFF THEMSELVES to figure that out you deserve to lose your children. Romeo and Juliet are victims of the feud and its mindless death-lust, not perpetrators of death on others. They’re not supposed to be figures of ridicule OR representatives of True Love: they’re supposed to make the audience go “oh BABIES, no, you’re going to end so badly” and then be sad when they do.
  • The singular “they”: Next time someone complains about singular “they” I’ll point them to this 17th century rant against singular “you”.