What’s Your Pronoun: Beyond He and She

Dennis Baron. Liveright, $25.95 (288p) ISBN 978-1-63149-604-2
University of Illinois professor emeritus Baron debuts with an entertaining and thoroughly documented account of two centuries’ worth of attempts to solve the problem of the English language’s “missing word”: a third person singular pronoun that includes all genders. Baron affirms the singular “they” is the best option by documenting the pronoun’s long history in idiomatic English; asserting that “top-down directives” by lawmakers and style manuals “don’t change language use”; and providing data about the popularity of “they” among people who self-identify as “trans, genderqueer, or nonbinary.” He also digs deeply into the legal and cultural implications of pronoun usage, such as the generic “he” in the Constitution and Bill of Rights, and addresses neologisms such as “hiser” and “thon,” which met with the approval of grammarians in the 19th and 20th centuries, but never achieved significant public usage. According to Baron, “everybody hates” the only strictly grammatical option: “his or her.” In conclusion, he offers an “annotated historical lexicon” of more 250 gender-neutral pronouns, a gold mine for readers who delight in the strangeness of language, as well as a clear demonstration of the thorniness of the issue. This easygoing, comprehensive guide will appeal to progressive word geeks. (Jan.)
Reviewed on : 09/27/2019
Release date: 01/21/2020
Genre: Nonfiction
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