Epicene pronouns

Lastly, there simply is no other solution acceptable to the vast numbers of people who actually speak the English language. The re-emergence of this use of “their” is natural, logical, and confuses no one. It is not sloppiness and it is not ignorance. It is a positive example of our language evolving to encompass a new social awareness, in this case the somewhat belated recognition that not everyone enjoys being referred to as “him.” The defense rests.

Page 2 of 2 | Previous page

4 comments on this post.
  1. Stan Cook:

    This was a truly interesting article. I have been looking something like this for a long time. I agree with your solution. Any other solution would require teaching a “vast number” of people how to use the new pronoun. I recently found, after asking around, that english grammer is almost an elective subject in todays high schools. Therfore, we would have teach our children what a pronoun is and how it is used then explain what the new pronoun is all about.

    I enjoy all of your articles and I learn a lot about my mother language.

  2. Steve Walker (aka John Steven Walker:

    Hello! My name is Steve Walker. I am a speech scientist and an architectural linguist. At my school Summit Language Services, Inc. (whose headquarters is in Yokohama, Japan) I regularly use a very effective epicene pronoun.

    1. The base form of this pronoun is “kee”– with inflected forms kee, kerm, kerms, and kermself. These allomorphs are my coinages. I have coined them in response to the need for a pronoun to replace “he or she” or “they” in sentences such as:
    “If someone calls me, tell them I will call them back.“or “If someone calls me, tell him or her that
    I will call him or her back. Here we are talking about a pronoun that does not refer to the gender of the referent — that is, an epicene pronoun. There have been many efforts to create such a morpheme. With my Jingles background, it is easy for me to create a winner – beause I simply allowed the England-based English community phonome to generate it. Here is how I did it: Since “he” comes from the abdomen (hiy) and “she” comes from the mouth itself (shiy), I deduced that a gender neutral expression for these allomorphs of he/she should be a fricative coming from the area of the soft palate or uvula xiy. However, since x is not a phoneme of English, the velar stop k should be used instead – thus leading to the epicene pronoun “kee’ (pronounced kiy). So kee came to be the nominative case singular gender neutral equivalent of “he or she”. Since “he” goes to “him” and “she” to “her” in the accusative case, then “kerm” (a blend of “him” and “her”) would follow. The final result is the paradigm:
    he/she becomes kee; him/her becomes kerm;
    his/her becomes kerm; himself/herself becomes
    kermself; his/hers becomes kerms.
    Using kee/kerm/kermself/kerms is so phonetically on target that its use can be mastered in seconds by a native speaker of English. The above problematic sentences are problematic no more: “If someone calls me, tell kerm that I will call kerm back.” And just try saying the following sentence using he/she or they/them! “If someone feels that kee is being discriminated against by someone else, rather than taking it upon kermself to seek out a lawyer, kee can merely tell the person who is bothering kerm to look at kerm face in the mirror and try to imagine how kee looks to the person whose feelings kee has hurt – and to compare them to kerms in the event that kee were to be discriminated against in a similar manner!

    2. Here is a sample of kee in action (taken from my school’s instructor training manual):
    “A deep awareness of TM/rm distinctions will not only increase the client’s rate of progress, but will protect kerm health as kee learns how to avoid voice abuse or bad practice habits when doing kerm Jingles.”

    It is my pleasure and privilege to introduce this much needed morpheme to the world.

    Thank you,
    Steve Walker
    speech scientist
    architectural linguist
    Jingles creator

  3. Ken Tager:

    I would have indeed have taken up my typewriter to rail against what initially appears to be a bow to convenience. I know, however, from years of reading your columns that you do your homework, rendering your imprimatur just shy of Fowler’s. Also, I don’t know where my typewriter is any more.

  4. J. Pastor:

    Cecil Adams of The Straight Dope addressed this question in a column. After mentioning a few alternatives he said “Then you get comedians like the guy in Forbes magazine who blended ‘he or she, it’ to produce h’orsh’it.”

Leave a comment