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M or F or Neither
March 11, 2010 2:55 PM   Subscribe

Zie is the first person recognised by the state of NSW Australia to be neither man nor woman. Norrie is androgynous and the state government of NSW acknowledges it. Zie is a long time activist who has done a lot of work with the Sydney Gender Centre.
posted by ginky (85 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
For those of you who are curious as to how the article handles a tricky style question:

'It's not a detail I think should be part of my identity,'' neither he nor she said.
posted by Bookhouse at 3:01 PM on March 11, 2010 [8 favorites]


Good for hir.
posted by feckless at 3:05 PM on March 11, 2010 [7 favorites]


Neat! Someone tell this guy.
posted by condour75 at 3:05 PM on March 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


from first link: “A Catholic ethicist, Nicholas Tonti-Filippini from the John Paul II Institute, said birth certificates should also record no gender in such cases, updated with ''any changes to phenotypic gender''. ¶ He said there was a trend against the practice of selecting a sex for intersex children, which could mean more androgynous people in future.”

That's kinda cool.
posted by koeselitz at 3:05 PM on March 11, 2010 [11 favorites]


Anyone else click the "cake lingerie" link at the bottom, just to be sorely disappointed? I was imagining corsets made out of red velvet and buttercream.
posted by mccarty.tim at 3:06 PM on March 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


...Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages that contained neither the dreaded ''M'' nor its equally despised cousin, ''F''.

Hey, fuck you, jouno. It's doubtful that Norrie actually holds opinions of this nature, so you're just potstirring and laying down some damage for the future.
posted by turgid dahlia at 3:08 PM on March 11, 2010 [4 favorites]


I was expecting a lady-boy, but that's David Bowie's brother Herman.
posted by ExitPursuedByBear at 3:09 PM on March 11, 2010


Go you, whatever it is you be!
But find a new pronoun,
'cause I don't like 'zie'!
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 3:09 PM on March 11, 2010 [7 favorites]


Some pronoun alternatives.
posted by feckless at 3:11 PM on March 11, 2010


For those of you who are curious as to how the article handles a tricky style question:

'It's not a detail I think should be part of my identity,'' neither he nor she said.


Don't really care for the way that was handled, actually. In the same sentence in which Zie asserts independence from gender, Zie is identified as the literal embodiment of a negative gender space. What the hell is wrong with just using Zie's name?

'It's not a detail I think should be part of my identity,'' Zie said.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:13 PM on March 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


Grats to Norrie!
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:16 PM on March 11, 2010


"Zie" isn't a name, IRFH. It's a non-gendered pronoun that some folks (especially online, in my experience) use as a substitute for "he" or "she."

So I agree that "zie said" would have been a perfectly legitimate way to end that sentence, but not for the reason you mention.
posted by nebulawindphone at 3:18 PM on March 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


Crud. Copy/paste laziness. The last sentence was supposed to read: 'It's not a detail I think should be part of my identity,'' Norrie said.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:20 PM on March 11, 2010


Now that I think about it, I suppose the very word "androgynous" is typical men-first-ism. Maybe we should change it to "gynandrous".
posted by Joe Beese at 3:22 PM on March 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


...and the "Zie" I copied from above shouldn't have been capped, and I should probably just stick to commenting in one or two threads at a time...
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:23 PM on March 11, 2010


is identified as the literal embodiment of a negative gender space

I guess. Gendered pronouns are kind of integral to our language as it currently stands, though, so I don't think it's too evil of the journalist to draw attention to the fact that we may need to invent a new pronoun, or alternatively comprehensively rethink written style (because using someone's name over and over in that context sounds awful to everyday ears). Right now, there is no word. There presumably should be, but that's not really the writer's fault.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 3:28 PM on March 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


game warden to the events rhino: "Right now, there is no word."

There is a popular one, and zie has said zie prefers it.
posted by idiopath at 3:35 PM on March 11, 2010


Why do we need another silly gender neutral pronoun?

It, One, Them. Just pick one already. If you don't like being referred to as an "it" you can't really claim that "'It's not a detail I think should be part of my identity".
posted by Talez at 3:36 PM on March 11, 2010


I don't think it's too evil of the journalist to draw attention to the fact that we may need to invent a new pronoun

But it wasn't necessary for the journalist to do so by applying their own, either, gwtter. The very next sentence shows that the author knew exactly how Norrie prefers to be identified:

''It's not a detail I think should be part of my identity,'' neither he nor she said. (Norrie prefers ''zie''.)

I certainly don't think the journalist was being evil, I just thought it an odd choice that felt a bit jarring to me. Like calling someone "the person who chooses not to be identified by the details of their gender" instead of just using their name, which isn't gender specific, and is a lot shorter. Not evil. Just not my cup of tea.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:38 PM on March 11, 2010


So here's the question, then: which bathroom will zie use? Gendered bathrooms aren't defined in the negative, they're defined in the positive. Men (those who identify as male) use the men's, etc. It's not that the "Men's room" is for the "non-female."

And won't anyone think of the poor advertisers? How will they know if zie likes yogurt or trucks?
posted by explosion at 3:38 PM on March 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


I use "zie" sometimes, but I fuck it up often enough that I just go with "they" most of the time.

Just pick one already.

Language doesn't fucking work like that, Talez.

Personally, I absolutely think we should do away with "sex" on birth certificates. This opinion seems to get lots of unreasonable negative attention, though.
posted by muddgirl at 3:39 PM on March 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


And won't anyone think of the poor advertisers? How will they know if zie likes yogurt or trucks?

Facebook.
posted by gman at 3:40 PM on March 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


Here come Dick, he’s wearing a skirt
Here comes Jane, y’know she’s sporting a chain
Same hair, revolution; same build, evolution
Tomorrow who’s gonna fuss?

posted by Rangeboy at 3:43 PM on March 11, 2010 [4 favorites]


Related: designing a better drop-down menu for gender.
posted by feckless at 3:45 PM on March 11, 2010 [4 favorites]


IRFH: Sorry, I was using "evil" in an exceedingly relaxed way. I know you didn't really mean that.

There is a popular one, and zie has said zie prefers it.

But it's not popular as in "any significant proportion of the world's English-speaking population has ever heard of it, ever, even once". The journalist has to write for a mass audience — and I'd say this article does as much as anyone could reasonably expect to introduce this new pronoun to more people. That said, I don't buy the argument that it's up to any given person to decide what words are used to describe them — that would quickly become ridiculous.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 3:46 PM on March 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


explosion: "which bathroom will zie use?"

one of these, I presume
posted by idiopath at 3:51 PM on March 11, 2010


Gender is a myth.

"Gender is a myth" is a myth.

It's not part of my identity at all, but it's rude of you not to accept that it's part of my identity.
posted by ubernostrum at 3:57 PM on March 11, 2010 [5 favorites]


I use "zie" sometimes, but I fuck it up often enough that I just go with "they" most of the time.

The singular they is a perfectly good linguistic construct that's been in use for hundreds of years, I don't see any reason to use an invented non-gendered pronoun that most people haven't heard of.
posted by burnmp3s at 4:00 PM on March 11, 2010 [11 favorites]


...and the "Zie" I copied from above shouldn't have been capped, and I should probably just stick to commenting in one or two threads at a time...

'S all good. I debated whether to say anything at all, because it seemed unlikely that you'd misread the article like that — and it turns out you didn't misread the article like that, so yay.

posted by nebulawindphone at 4:02 PM on March 11, 2010


Actually, I'm glad you pointed it out, nebulawindphone. Just because I was complaining about clunky writing doesn't mean that what I wrote wasn't even worse. Everyone benefits from clarification. Especially me. Wait - no one else can see this but us when we write small, right?
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:07 PM on March 11, 2010


I mistook this for a story from NSFW Australia and I was halfway through plans to emigrate before I realized my mistake.
posted by Babblesort at 4:14 PM on March 11, 2010 [4 favorites]


turgid dahlia: "...Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages that contained neither the dreaded ''M'' nor its equally despised cousin, ''F''.

Hey, fuck you, jouno. It's doubtful that Norrie actually holds opinions of this nature, so you're just potstirring and laying down some damage for the future.
"

That line got me instantly annoyed. I'll second the fuck you.
posted by Splunge at 4:40 PM on March 11, 2010


...their name, which isn't gender specific, and is a lot shorter

Sorry to continue the corrections IRFH, but Norrie is a gender-specific name in Scotland, where this Norrie is from (it's 'short' for Norris). In fact, I'd go so far as to say that it's a decidedly blokey nickname - the sort of thing retired rugby internationals, shady nightclub bouncers and old geezers who prop up bars tend to be called.
posted by a little headband I put around my throat at 4:43 PM on March 11, 2010


Good for Norrie! I love androgyny.
posted by applemeat at 4:46 PM on March 11, 2010


So here's the question, then: which bathroom

Is that really the question? Who cares?
posted by fritley at 4:47 PM on March 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


So, how is "zie" typically pronounced?
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 4:47 PM on March 11, 2010


one of these, I presume

idiopath, that seems like a potentially tremendous but currently fantastically useless site.

Out of curiosity I looked for the one closest to me and was greeted with a location in a dinig establishment with the helpful advice:

Availability:act like you're shopping

That might draw attention in a restaurant.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 4:48 PM on March 11, 2010


Ha! Now that was just me being ignorant, a little headband I put around my throat. And, I suppose, US American-centric, too. Okay - I give up. I now officially have no business critiquing anyone else's writing. This is me shutting up now. Sorry for all the derails, all.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:49 PM on March 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Gender is a myth" is a myth.

It's not part of my identity at all, but it's rude of you not to accept that it's part of my identity.


Gender essentialism is a myth. The second part of your comment is hard to parse, so I'll assume it's tongue-in-cheek.
posted by muddgirl at 4:50 PM on March 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


That line got me instantly annoyed. I'll second the fuck you.

Me too. (three?) And that "Sexless in the city" headline struck me as unnecessarily and provocatively cutesy. Also misleading, since being neither "male" nor "female" does not necessarily preclude one from being sexual.

Sorry to continue the corrections IRFH, but Norrie is a gender-specific name in Scotland, where this Norrie is from (it's 'short' for Norris).

Funny, it was a nickname I knew well growing up (USA) for the rather girly, and archaic "Eleanor."
posted by applemeat at 5:00 PM on March 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


This was foreshadowed almost a year ago:

In its report Sex Files: The Legal Recognition Of Sex In Documents And Government Records, launched yesterday, the [Australian Human Rights] commission recommends that anyone over the age of 18 should be able to choose to have an "unspecified" sex noted on documents and records, and where possible sex or gender questions should be removed from government forms and documents.

From this article, which also mentions Norrie.
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:30 PM on March 11, 2010


I like the spellings "zhe zhim zher" better, as they give a clearer indication of how they should be pronounced.
posted by Powerful Religious Baby at 5:48 PM on March 11, 2010


I... come on. Seriously? "Zie"? No one is ever going to say that outside of queer theory academics. I'm sorry, but it's true.
posted by DecemberBoy at 5:52 PM on March 11, 2010 [13 favorites]


I almost suspect this was specifically phrased in order to taunt someone into saying that "zie" is silly. It makes it no more clear and it's intentionally made clumsy to work in the "zie". You wouldn't write a sentence like that with "He is the first person" or "She is the first person", you'd say "(name) is the first person".
posted by DecemberBoy at 5:57 PM on March 11, 2010


Gender:
[           ]
(this is free-form, go nuts)
posted by loquacious at 6:08 PM on March 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


I found it difficult to structure the FPP, but decided to go ahead and use "zie" as that was Norrie's stated choice.
posted by ginky at 6:09 PM on March 11, 2010


Just curious, why is this post tagged gay and lesbian? The article has nothing to do with either, and trans/intersex/genderqueer issues needn't be automatically conflated with gay/lesbian issues.
posted by desjardins at 6:28 PM on March 11, 2010 [7 favorites]


DecemberBoy: "No one is ever going to say that outside of queer theory academics."

It is pretty common in a few places I have been (none of which were a queer theory department at a university). The more friends you have who don't want to be known as "he" or "she" the more often you will hear it. Checking your profile, I know folks who live in your own city who use that pronoun.
posted by idiopath at 6:29 PM on March 11, 2010 [4 favorites]


Gender is a very real thing, as evidenced by the reality that most people on this planet will identify themselves in one way or another. I am a straight male. I have a friend who is a drag queen, but he identifies as a gay male.

The thing that annoys me (and perhaps I'm too sensitive, or even a bit insensitive to others), is that the trans people I've spent time around make more of an issue of "the gender binary" than I ever thought possible. Just as gays and lesbians have wanted for a long time to be treated as "normal" people, I've never had an issue with a trans person... until the use of the proper elusive pronoun was seen as a defining characteristic of who they are and/or aren't. There seemed to be such attitude, to the point where it seems the whole point is to provoke. Now this is just based on my personal experience, but I'm trying to be practical. I don't want to deal with somebody else's gender issues, to be honest. I've got my own issues, just not gender related. What it comes down to is something like this: I have a friend. He happens to be gay. I have a roommate. She happens to be a lesbian. But the transgender people I know let it be their defining characteristic. Maybe I just don't understand.

Okay, unleash the hate.
posted by l2p at 6:31 PM on March 11, 2010 [8 favorites]


Good point desjardins, I agree. I had LGBT in mind when I used those tags. But the post also links to the Gender Centre which works with people with "gender issues", some of whom are Gay or Lesbian identified.
posted by ginky at 6:39 PM on March 11, 2010



So, how is "zie" typically pronounced?


I'm not sure how it's typically pronounced, but a soft "jh" sound (more like zhe? maybe) seems right, and is kind of lovely.
posted by louche mustachio at 6:47 PM on March 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


My first thought upon reading the word was "zee". It could also be seen as zed long i. But yes, the "jh" with an eh (ay?) sound is elegant.

Unfortunately it is neither clear or common. How would one make it so? You can't put a pronunciation key in text everytime you type it, can you?

So that makes it sort of confusing for persons who would like to be correct, but haven't a clue.

As I did upon first parsing it in my limited brain.
posted by Splunge at 7:30 PM on March 11, 2010


I've never had an issue with a trans person... until the use of the proper elusive pronoun was seen as a defining characteristic of who they are and/or aren't.

So, would you be cool with it if people in your life decided they would henceforth refer to you only as "she"? Glibness aside, I just think it's unpersuasive for those of us who take for granted our naturally fitting parameters to decide for others the value of these elements.

There seemed to be such attitude, to the point where it seems the whole point is to provoke.

There's obnoxious activists for every cause, no doubt. But is it possible that you've only encountered provocative transpeople? There are all kinds of transfolks, too, and some people you may not even know are trans.

I don't want to deal with somebody else's gender issues, to be honest. I've got my own issues, just not gender related. [...] Maybe I just don't understand.

I can't say that I disagree with you. But I do think it's worth noting that it is only by our very privilege that we do not have to deal with this. Again, it's easy for us to lose patience with needs that we don't share and things that don't affect us.
posted by applemeat at 7:36 PM on March 11, 2010 [5 favorites]


Thanks Norrie!
posted by humannaire at 8:16 PM on March 11, 2010


As annoying as it is when a MTF trans person over my acquaintance decides to take the women in our circle to task for being unfeminine and 'not womanly enough' and also decides that they never had any male privilege - I am not going to judge her need to be referred to using the correct pronoun. Everything else I'll react to on it's own merit, but referring to her using feminine pronouns isn't a favour to be revoked when disagreeing with her politics.
posted by geek anachronism at 8:38 PM on March 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


I... come on. Seriously? "Zie"? No one is ever going to say that outside of queer theory academics. I'm sorry, but it's true.

It came pretty naturally to me, and I'm not a queer theory academic. I've read some, though, and probably more relevantly, a lot of science fiction with gender themes.

I like the aesthetics of it. Also, singular they is all very well until you need to distinguish between singular and plural, and then it isn't.
posted by feckless at 9:31 PM on March 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Why do we need another silly gender neutral pronoun?

It, One, Them. Just pick one already. If you don't like being referred to as an "it" you can't really claim that "'It's not a detail I think should be part of my identity".


Um, I think we should treat people like people, not like things. If people don't want to be referred to as an "it", it's no skin off my nose to accommodate them.

Likewise, what bathroom a person uses shouldn't matter, unless they never mastered flushing or making sure there's a full roll of paper for the next person.

I'm cool with whatever folk want to be called, as long as they don't insist I write their name in lowercase letters.
posted by sebastienbailard at 10:18 PM on March 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


l2p: "The thing that annoys me (and perhaps I'm too sensitive, or even a bit insensitive to others), is that the trans people I've spent time around make more of an issue of "the gender binary" than I ever thought possible."

Ha ha oh wait, you're serious. This is a huge can of worms you've just opened, doesn't seem particularly relevant to this thread, and will probably derail the fuck out of it. Just take it from a trans person: you've just been really, really insulting and callous. I recommend metatalk or memail if you want to have that discussion.

geek anachronism: "As annoying as it is when a MTF trans person over my acquaintance decides to take the women in our circle to task for being unfeminine and 'not womanly enough' and also decides that they never had any male privilege - I am not going to judge her need to be referred to using the correct pronoun."

While I'm glad you're not wearing a Pronoun Police hat and accompanying baton, I would suggest that the concept of male privilege as it relates to trans women is also a huge bucket of slithering things and doesn't need to dominate this discussion, because I so can't help myself and will go off on one if I'm not careful.

On topic, yay, go Norrie!
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 12:56 AM on March 12, 2010 [5 favorites]


Look, Army is trying SO hard not to explode in rage over some peoples word choices! To all hopeful shit-stirrers out there, take it from me. DON'T BOTHER
posted by ReeMonster at 4:52 AM on March 12, 2010


I'm a totally weird gender non-conformist. If anyone wants to have a go at me, go ahead, but probably in MeMail or on MeTa.

The gender neutral pronoun set I prefer (outside of work where I generally pass as masculine pretty easily) is Spivak. In video games and virtual environments I often play as feminine or not standard masculine characters when I have the choice, especially when I'm not given a non-binary choice.

A little essay I wrote a long time ago for use on There is still available on my web site about my gender presentation and choices (I wrote it for There.com, which is, I understand, going out of business). I'll risk linking to it here in a comment in an old thread. This is the labor saving device of self-quotation and not in the spirit of advertising my site. I could care less.

Anyway, that essay is here. Warning: In the essay, I'm pretty explicit about my sexual morphology/phenotype. If you don't want TMI, don't read it. Also, since the original version of the essay, I've put on some weight and sit solidly in the beer belly zone.

I should also note that since 2003, my real life relationship is now completely monogamous and committed and I don't participate in sexual activities with anyone else, online or off.

I'm proud for Norrie and what zie's accomplished. I hope it keeps cracking the wedge a bit wider towards more universal social acceptance for other gender presentations. I hope those of us who croggled by this can figure out some ways to deal with it profitably. I know it's hard. It was hard for me too. I just didn't really have a choice but to deal with it directly in my own life and identity. Maybe dealing with the flexibility is harder if you're not forced to?
posted by kalessin at 5:33 AM on March 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


This single-post blog is a decent jumping-off point for anyone interested in the pronouns aspect of this.

From my limited experience (I'm trans but binary-identified, and I went through a bit of a dick phase after coming out where I was a little dismissive of the whole genderqueer thing; nevertheless I've seen ten years of discussion on this bounce about the web) the zie/hir set is the most widely-used of all the alternatives so, despite any stylistic positives and negatives, it's probably going to be the coinage that sticks. Certainly anyone with a passing acquaintance with the topic will understand you if you use them, which can't be said (in my case, at least) for ve/vis or ne/nir.

explosion: "which bathroom will zie use?"

This is one of the reasons I'm so glad to see this kind of stuff moving forward: public safety is a primary concern for androgynous/genderqueer people. In a world where gender presentation is so important that you can be thrown out of a women's toilet despite being a cis woman, something as simple as needing to pee when you're away from home or the office can put you in danger. Official recognition of androgynous people is a small step towards alleviating that.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 5:44 AM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Joe Beese: Now that I think about it, I suppose the very word "androgynous" is typical men-first-ism. Maybe we should change it to "gynandrous".

I've thought this too. Especially when people shorten "androgynous" to "andro", which just doesn't work. But "gynandrous" probably would be shortened to "gyno" by those same word-shorteners, which doesn't work. And I've seen "androgyne" spelled "androgen" (like male sex hormones), too.

explosion: And won't anyone think of the poor advertisers? How will they know if zie likes yogurt or trucks?

Trucks filled with yogurt.
posted by madcaptenor at 5:47 AM on March 12, 2010


Shoulda previewed, argh.

kalessin: "The gender neutral pronoun set I prefer (outside of work where I generally pass as masculine pretty easily) is Spivak."

I like Spivak, but I find that with my accent em can sound like him and eir can sound like her, which isn't ideal. Every vowel in every pronoun turns into a schwa in my mangled mouth!
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 5:50 AM on March 12, 2010


Xpzlftz am a post-androgynous male identifier, and insist that all documents that use pronouns to refer to xpzlftz use the term "Xpzlftz". Further, xpzlftz claim the term "xpzlftz solely for xpzlftzself. Xpzlftz don't want anyone else using xpzlftz's private pronoun. If anyone objects to this, xpzlftz will charge you with insensitivity. Xpzlftz have spoken.
posted by crazylegs at 6:33 AM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


We've had a perfectly good gender-neutral pronoun in English for some time: "they." You can't invent pronouns, and "zie" is not an English word because the overwhelming majority of native speakers wouldn't recognize it.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 6:41 AM on March 12, 2010


I don't think anyone's under the illusion that gender-neutral pronouns are going to make their way into wide usage any time soon. But I don't see how you can claim zie's not a word in English just because people don't recognise it, unless you classify technical terms and jargon as outside the language as well.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 7:11 AM on March 12, 2010


You can't invent pronouns

I'm no linguist, but I know a lot of linguists, and they would disagree with the strength of this statement.

Better to phrase it as "We don't invent pronouns". Linguists don't make laws of languages, they discover rules.
posted by muddgirl at 7:21 AM on March 12, 2010


they would disagree with the strength of this statement

Perhaps the phrasing of that statement is less than ideal, but it's a pretty good way to cram "no human language allows pronouns to be created arbitrarily" into four words. And that is something that linguists would agree on, because it happens to be true.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 7:37 AM on March 12, 2010


allows pronouns to be created arbitrarily

Except we DO have examples of pronouns being "created" in English dialects. For example, "yo".
posted by muddgirl at 7:50 AM on March 12, 2010


ArmyOfKittens, Spivak is admittedly better in e-speak than in speaking speak. It's possible to pronounce it so that it doesn't sound like you're slurring typical masculine/feminine pronouns but it's a lot of work. I like zie too, but am not as practiced at it.
posted by kalessin at 7:53 AM on March 12, 2010


Except we DO have examples of pronouns being "created" in English dialects. For example, "yo".

Not recognizable to most native speakers of English. To typical speakers of English, "yo" will be recognized as a second-person possessive pronoun, if it's recognized as a pronoun at all.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 8:01 AM on March 12, 2010


unless you classify technical terms and jargon as outside the language as well.

That's sort of the definition of jargon, no? It's not really in the mainstream language; it's in a (usually occupationally-specific) dialect of it.

The problem is believing that there is one "English" language; there isn't. There are lots of different dialects, which have some large amount of mutual overlap. This mutual overlap between all dialects is the language core; it's the common denominator that you can reasonably expect anyone who 'speaks English' to understand. I'm not sure it's really useful to debate where "The English Language" begins and ends; there's a point beyond which, when words are only used in a specific community's dialect, that I don't think you can really consider them part of the language proper, but exactly where to draw that line is infinitely arguable.

Occasionally words migrate from the hinterlands of occupational or geographic jargon into that core language, but it's a difficult process, even for nouns, verbs, and adjectives. I think it's pretty unrealistic to expect a new pronoun to make the jump.

It strikes me as probably a lot easier to re-purpose an existing pronoun (removing the inanimate-object connotation of 'it', perhaps, or the plural ambiguity of 'they' by using 'theys') than to try and introduce a new, totally synthetic one. Especially since there have been multiple attempts made over the years at new pronouns, and none of them have seem to really catch on.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:07 AM on March 12, 2010


I think you're being unreasonably strict about this. From the very wikipedia article you linked to as "evidence" that we CAN'T do this:
A closed class may get new items through these same processes, but the change takes much more time. The closed class is normally viewed as part of the core language and is not expected to change.
posted by muddgirl at 8:17 AM on March 12, 2010


kalessin, I recorded myself reading a few passages from Alice in Wonderland with Spivak pronouns, and I couldn't get myself to pronounce them distinctly enough to tell the difference a lot of the time. Thinking about it more, though, it's not a problem unique to Spivak, as zie assimilates to the previous word in some cases. If I were to say, for example, "As soon as I gave zir the onions zie dropped them!" I'd have to deliberately pause after onions to avoid the following zie coming out like he.

*runs off for elocution lessons*

on preview, yep, Kadin, that was the point I was (glibly) making: English is huge and daft, with room for everything. Useful enough words tend to propagate out through intersecting groups, and even though it's likely going to be an extraordinarily long process for zie I expect it to get there in the end. Queer theorists teach LGBT activists who teach allies who teach the leftie press which teaches the mainstream press, and suddenly, zie is everywhere. In, like, 2100 or something. I don't really see what's so different about pronouns in that sense.

I don't expect it ever to be universal -- especially when even the existence of gender-neutrality is controversial for many -- but I do expect it, or something like it, to become widely-known in the next century or so.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 8:19 AM on March 12, 2010


In Philadelphia, "yo" is what people on street corners say when they want to get other people's attention. (I'm not sure if it's used this way in Baltimore, which is where the claims of "yo" as gender-neutral pronoun are coming from.)

And in Spanish, "yo" is the first-person singular subject pronoun ("I"), which has caused confusion for generations of Spanish-learning Philadelphians.
posted by madcaptenor at 9:14 AM on March 12, 2010


The kids also frequently use yo as an attention-getter (as in "Yo, Adrienne"), and as a shortened version of your (as in "Yo momma"), but the researchers were careful to show that the use as a pronoun was distinct from these other uses.
posted by muddgirl at 9:20 AM on March 12, 2010


I know a lot of linguists, and they would disagree with the strength of this statement.

I did my thesis on indefinite pronouns in English.

Generally speaking there are form words and function words. Words that have meaning (nouns) and words like prepositions which only sort of imbue meaning into other words. I'm oversimplifying a lot here, but basically it's not that hard to invent a new noun and get other people to use and understand it. It's much more difficult to do this with a word that is more of a function word such as a pronoun. Singular "they" is closer to being both correct and understood than other pronoun options but that doesn't mean that other people won't work to get other forms accepted through use, it's just a tough battle and still more of a wild frontier.
posted by jessamyn at 10:06 AM on March 12, 2010 [4 favorites]


You can't invent pronouns.

The hell thwou say!
posted by sebastienbailard at 2:07 PM on March 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


You can't invent pronouns.

she. (c. 1154, 13th - 16th century)

pronoun. (1530)

he, it. (c. 13th - 16th century)

I understand that the etymologists might disagree.
posted by kalessin at 4:51 PM on March 12, 2010


that doesn't mean that other people won't work to get other forms accepted through use

And importantly, if it's not swallowed up into the language in your lifetime (or at all), it's not bigotry. Just think about how hard it would be if you were trying to do this in Spanish, French, German, or Russian, and having to try to create an additional grammatical gender (so you could do basic things like declining adjectives).
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 4:54 PM on March 12, 2010


Now that folks will be coming back to this thread, I'd just like to reprise the old joke about the possible gender-neutral pronoun - he(or she/it). Or, as pronounced, horsheeit.
posted by yhbc at 8:54 PM on March 17, 2010


Which also brings to mind my idea for that thing that carries people to hospitals. Everyone is too jaded to see "AMBULANCE" spelled backwards in their rear-view mirror for the sight of the suddenly-non-reversed word to have any impact. All we have to do is give them a new name: "AIOHTHOIA". Problem solved, whether you're coming or going. Shit, there's an aiohthoia! I'd better get out of the way!
posted by yhbc at 8:59 PM on March 17, 2010


Gender status: revoked. (via this soon-to-be-deleted FPP)
posted by crossoverman at 9:13 PM on March 17, 2010


To say I am not happy about this newly revised turn of events would be quite an understatement.
posted by ifjuly at 12:12 AM on March 18, 2010


Just think about how hard it would be if you were trying to do this in Spanish, French, German, or Russian, and having to try to create an additional grammatical gender

I imagine that the path of least resistance would be to use Neuter, at least for languages that have that option.

Creating a new grammatical gender would be almost insurpassably difficult in M/F-only gendered languages.
posted by UbuRoivas at 1:07 AM on March 18, 2010


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