I applaud Rita Dunaway’s viewpoint (“The Non-Binary Gender ‘They’ And Why it Matters,” Oct.19) affection for language. I share her raised eyebrows over Merriam-Webster’s addition of “they” to signify a double-gendered singular. Ms. Dunaway should, however, look more deeply into the singular “they” and the ontology of language (she should also check her parsing of “Sarah’s parents” — “Sarah’s” is an adjective, not a noun, thus incapable of being pronouned).

The singular “they” has been a legitimized pronoun in English since at least the 14th century. As a consequence of political and social-class issues, the singular “they” became an error along with the split infinitive only in the late 18th century.

Ms. Dunaway, with political implications, also bemoans the essence of language. Language changes. Also, meaning (such as for “love”) is inescapably multivariant. Surely Ms. Dunaway knows words have multiple meanings and that the nature of language is to change. It all depends on how you “meek.”

Irvin Peckham


(3) comments


The pronoun "it" is singular and gender neutral. Why do we need to use the plural gender neutral pronoun "they" in its place? What we have already works.


Because "it" doesn't refer to a human (at least not yet). It's kind of insulting, don't you think?


Dear LVW, I think it's less insulting than corrupting proper English grammar. I prefer to use "he" and "his" for non-gender specific situations just like I will continue to use "el" and "su" in Spanish.

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