Tuesday 26 June 2012

A Defence of the Singular They

All my life, I've used 'they' as a singular pronoun when talking about some unspecified individual who's gender is unknown and irrelevant. It came as some surprise to me to find out, in recent months, that this is apparently the subject of contention.

But since it appears to be, I thought I'd chip in my two cents on the issue. Without further ado, here's why I say that singular they is a perfectly valid use.

It's better than the alternatives
There are several alternatives for third person singular, gender neutral pronouns. And all but one of them suck.

There's 'it', which is rude and by convention isn't used to refer to humans old enough to distinguish their gender without taking their nappy off.

There are such remedies as 'he or she', which are clumsy and tedious.

There are all kinds of invented pronouns, which most of us don't understand, and even if we did, words forcibly invented and inserted into a living language are as alien and invasive as mink in a British stream. Perhaps eventually they'll become part of the landscape - like rabbits, which were introduced by the invading Romans and are now considered native - but until then don't try and tell me I have to like them.

There's the age old tradition of picking a gender - usually male - and running with it. Which in most situations these days is asking to be shot down in flames. Or similarly to alternate he and she, but referring to the same person by different pronouns has a tendency to be confusing.

Some advocate simply restructuring language to avoid the problem, but the problem will still exist; even if you're willing to put up with the more clumsy sentence which sometimes results, sometimes it's not possible to make a reasonable restructuring.

Or there's the singular they. Which works in nearly all situations where you need a singular, third person, gender neutral pronoun.

There's precedent
You don't object when I call you by that pronoun, I assume?

As anyone who knows a language such as French, Spanish, or German knows, English is unusual in only having one second person pronoun. And strictly speaking we don't. We have two: thou and you, but thou has fallen out of use to the point where it isn't standard English any more and is only used, often incorrectly, by people who want to make the dialogue in their historical story sound more authentically historical.

You was the analogue of the French vous (for example), and thou meant the same as tu.

You, or vous is plural and thou or tu singular, but you/vous is also used as a polite singular pronoun. Tu/thou is insulting, although it may be used informally as well, in much the same way that you might give your best mate a slap on the back where you would shake a stranger's hand. Or occasionally and affectionately refer to your younger brother as 'it'. And in English, for some reason, we stopped using the insulting version entirely and use you as singular whoever we're talking to.

Likewise, we have two gender neutral third person pronouns, singular and plural, it and they. 'It' is insulting, so why shouldn't we use the same solution and say 'they' for all?

It just is
As I say, I've used it all my life, and it's never appeared to be contentious. Certainly, a large proportion of people use it, and have for a long time, and doubtless it's been used in print, and everyone understands it. That's more-or-less the definition of being correct in a living language.

Any thoughts?

Thursday 7 June 2012

The Wrong Side of the Dawn Chorus

Most of the bird song around here could only be called so by the very loosest of definitions. There's the odd crow or similar, but mostly it's gulls. Common gulls, herring gulls, black-headed gulls, and kittiwakes. The most inland breeding colony of kittiwakes in the world, in fact. But that's beside the point.

Gulls' cries can be eerily beautiful, in a lonely, dramatic sort of way. On the sort of overcast night you only get in a big city, when the lights reflect off the thick blanket to bathe everything in a purple glow, and ghosts soar and wheel against that weird smoke, wailing.

It's an odd blessing to light pollution.

Most of the time, though, they're annoying at best and very often alarming, when they catch you off guard and sound exactly like a human scream.

But there's odd blessings to insomnia too.

There is birdsong around here, and it's beautiful. I don't know what bird it is, but it sings so incredibly sweetly. I never wake up early enough to hear it, but occasionally, on summer nights when it gets light in what could still reasonably be called the wee small hours, and when I'm finding it particularly hard to get to sleep, the sky grows bluer outside my window until it's lighter than twilight. And the dawn chorus starts up. It's quite soft, and quite cheerful, and infinitely more musical than the gulls' efforts.

I was still awake after four this morning, and not because I hadn't gone to bed early. But despite hearing it at the wrong end of the day, I count myself pretty lucky for it.

Tuesday 5 June 2012

The Moment of Truth

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I was giving up coffee for two weeks, to see if it helped my insomnia. Well, It's now been two weeks, and I haven't noticed anything, so I'm going to see how tonight goes and then finish the experiment.

I guess I ought to be hoping I get the best night's sleep I've had in ages, but part of me is willing it not to make any difference so that I can have coffee tomorrow with a clear conscience.

I don't want to have to make the choice between sleeping better - which would be lovely, but I've managed for nearly twenty-one years without it - and coffee. The responsible choice would be the sleep, of course. But I like coffee.

I'll let you know how it goes. Goodnight.

[UPDATE]: Slept terribly last night. So this morning, coffee.

Friday 1 June 2012

Do You Want to Read the Next Bestseller, Now?

Well, that might be coming it a bit strong, but I hope it's going to be the next bestseller. Aim high, and all that. Also 'now' here means sometime next week, but it'll still be some way earlier than anyone else gets to see it.

I will soon - hopefully in a few days- be looking for beta readers for my novel. As regular readers will know, it's a new take on the vampire genre, and if that sounds up your street and you'd like a preview and the chance to influence the book, apply now!

In return for some feedback, you will not have only my undying gratitude but also a free copy of the book once it's published. As well as feedback, I will be asking for suggestions for a title, so you could end up naming the book!

If you're interested, please email me at cazzz20@hotmail.co.uk (that's not a typo, there are meant to be three z's. Long story). I'll get back to you with some guidance about the kind of feedback I'm after, and a copy of the manuscript once the first round of editing is finished.