Will Twitter save the TNIV?

HT: Mike Aubrey (via Facebook)

The New York Times has a new article up on “The All-Purpose Pronoun“, in which legions of Twitter users are bemoaning the lack of a good non-gendered pronoun to refer to everybody and anybody. This, of course, is familiar ground for those dezions familiar with the debate on gender language in the Bible.

The middle of the article contains some interesting historical info on the introduction of “he” as a universal pronoun and what was used before it:

If any single person is responsible for this male-centric usage, it’s Anne Fisher, an 18th-century British schoolmistress and the first woman to write an English grammar book, according to the sociohistorical linguist Ingrid Tieken-Boon van Ostade. Fisher’s popular guide, “A New Grammar” (1745), ran to more than 30 editions, making it one of the most successful grammars of its time. More important, it’s believed to be the first to say that the pronoun he should apply to both sexes.

The idea that he, him and his should go both ways caught on and was widely adopted. But how, you might ask, did people refer to an anybody before then? This will surprise a few purists, but for centuries the universal pronoun was they. Writers as far back as Chaucer used it for singular and plural, masculine and feminine. Nobody seemed to mind that they, them and their were officially plural. As Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage explains, writers were comfortable using they with an indefinite pronoun like everybody because it suggested a sexless plural.

So there you go – the TNIV has history on its side. And perhaps if the tweeting masses catch on, history will repeat itself:

In fact, so many people now use they in the old singular way that dictionaries and usage guides are taking a critical look at the prohibition against it. R. W. Burchfield, editor of The New Fowler’s Modern English Usage, has written that it’s only a matter of time before this practice becomes standard English: “The process now seems irreversible.”

[…] Its fate is now in the hands of the jury, the people who speak the language.

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  1. Posted July 28, 2009 at 2:17 PM | Permalink

    But first we have to get rid of the hypocrisy of guys like Piper, Grudem, and Dobson.

    Yeah, this is a nice historical tidbit.

  2. Posted July 28, 2009 at 7:55 PM | Permalink

    only is Zondervan gets on the ball…otherwise, Tyndale will take over with the NLT…

    • Posted July 28, 2009 at 7:55 PM | Permalink

      …assuming, that is, we over come this “literal translation is better” BS.

  3. Posted July 29, 2009 at 6:51 AM | Permalink

    Hasn’t Facebook already done this? Its announcements are full of singular “they”s, even when referring to specific Facebook users, whose gender it already knows because this is specified in their profiles, for example this which I received recently:

    [A male Facebook user] accepted your friend request. Since they’re new to Facebook, you should suggest people they know.

    For certain a Facebook and Twitter generation used to reading things like this will have no problem with TNIV’s rather occasional singular “they”s.