Sunday, August 26, 2007

Writing with Unspecified Gender: Neologisms

There are a few versions of the neologisms created over the past few centuries that one can imagine using on a regular basis. Regardless of the set one choses (check this comprehensive list for a wide variety), using the new words will be a matter of consciously changing one's speech and writing habits. One may be dissuaded from one's experiment by the slow-communication period of adjustment - and of explaining the words to others.

You may have noticed that I used “one” throughout that last paragraph. That was an attempt to test the snooty factor in using it as a substitute for “he or she”. It wasn't difficult to do and it flows naturally, to me. It just seems that people have an aversion to using the word regularly. I blame British television comedies.

I found two other invented sets of words that I could imagine remembering long enough to use. The first is one that has enjoyed acceptance among those who care on the Internet. You would say, “This blogger is foolish. Sie acts like hir pets are important and sie repeats hirself. I'm bored by hir.” Please note that this is only for illustration and is not an actual review. I'd include the link.

Thus “sie” is “she or he”, “hir” is “his or her” (as well as “him or her”), and “hirself” is “himself or herself”. Sie is a German word and enjoys Teutonic flexibility in its meaning, which makes it perfect for this sort of adoption. The change is not drastic and the pronunciation is different enough (or can be) that the words will not be confused with, say, “see” and “hear”.

The second set is the “te, ter, tem” set used by Richard Maurer. Taking my previous example, you would then say, “This blogger is foolish. Te acts like ter pets are important and te repeats temself. I'm bored by tem.” Basically, this set is a singularization of they, their, and them. It's straightforward and easy to understand. Unfortunately, it sounds more like someone doing a bad impression of a Jamaican accent. The set is just too close to the original words to have wide appeal.

The problem with any of these neologisms is that they are new. You could post an explanation in the sidebar of your blog so that new readers understand you but daily verbal use would be intimidating. Could you stand up at an important meeting and say, “Our average customer knows what sie wants,” and then stop your presentation to explain it? If you said, “Te drives like ter the only one on the road!” would your spouse laugh at you?

In short (at length), is the change worth the effort? I like the idea of being on the forefront of change, but in I don't think it will happen. People have been trying for 150 years and not one system has gained long-standing use.

Note: Obviously, I have returned early and I'm glad to have kept the schedule I originally set. Four fish and seven hours in a boat were enough for the kids. Now I'm off to bathe in some aloe and follow it up with much lotion. Thank heavens I didn't sunburn my fingers. I'll post one last entry in this series on Wednesday. Now I need to come up with something for my 100th post tomorrow! Any suggestions?