An editor told me they prefer to use the plural pronoun rather than he or she and be correct.

A Scene from Twelfth Night by William Shakespe...

A Scene from Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare: Act V, Scene i (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Oxford Dictionaries Web site says the use of the plural third person pronoun as an alternative to the “he or she” construction is actually a throwback to 16th century English and is gaining in popularity and acceptance. But I can’t help it. It sounds ignorant or just plain lazy, especially when editors, whose job is to help writers be precise and effective in their use of the language, are the ones advocating it.

Correctness in the use of language isn’t about blindly following rules. It’s about meaning and clarity. It’s about being understood. Consider this:

If your child wants good grades they need to pay attention in school and study.

Who are they? And exactly how are they going to help my child?

An editor recently told me her company (I could have said their company but chose not to) are moving toward making the use of the plural pronoun part of the house style. When I pointed out that the use of they in the sentence above is open to misinterpretation and gets in the way of effective and efficient communication, her explanation was that the copy editor had pointed out that Shakespeare had used the construction, so it is ok to use it now.

I didn’t really have an answer other than to point out that Shakespeare also used “thou” and “hath,” which didn’t impress the editor very much. But then I got to thinking that citing Shakespeare’s use as a justification for unorthodox constructions could solve some problems a lot of people worry about. Here’s a sampling of Shakespearean constructions you can point to when someone tells you you don’t speak good:

English: banner Shakespeare

English: banner Shakespeare (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you want to use one part of speech for another (for instance you want to google something) Shakespeare said:

  • This day shall gentle his condition. (From Hamlet)

If you want to alter the meaning of an adjective here’s how Shakespeare did it:

  • Wherever in your sightless (= invisible) substances. (From Macbeth)
  • That is deceivable (= deceptive). (From Twelfth Night)

If you don’t want to bother checking for subject-verb agreement:

  •  These high wide hills … draws out our miles and makes them wearisome (From Richard II)

If you’re tired of determining whether it’s he or him or it’s who or whom:

  •  Yes, you may have seen Cassio and she together. (From Othello)
  • Pray you, who does the wolf love? (From Coriolanus)

If you’re not sure of how to form the comparative or superlative and it’s just too hard to look it up:

  • And his more braver daughter could control thee. (From The Tempest)
  • With the most boldest and best hearts of Rome (From Julius Caesar)

If you need to cut insignificant words (such as to or for) to stay within an arbitrary word limit:

  • As deep as to the lungs, who does me this? (From Hamlet)

I found these examples — and there’s more to see — at the Shakespeare Resource Center Web site.

Before you check it out, though, why not join the fray below…


Pain Shadow (on exhibit)

Congratulations to Robyn Lee on the acceptance of her fine work for exhibit by Go see her post entitled Pain Shadow (on exhibit) on her Through the Healing Lens blog, But don’t just stop with the one post. Take the time to read her story and then wander through the images and words. It’s time well spent.

From the Archives: Series 1 — The Anti-Meeting Movement

First Settlement marker at Bedford NH

First Settlement marker at Bedford NH (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I can’t take sole credit for all the items published under the label of “From the Archives.” Some, like the Anti Meeting Movement, are the result of a collaborative effort of academics who wanted to think themselves beautiful people living in a world that could have only been created by J. D. Salinger.

Not Minutes

Nor Hours

Nor Seconds

Nor Even Days

Enter the Catalogue

“The effect of the three-part series is normality and reasonableness, and it is related distantly to the syllogism. But when the writer creates the third kind of series, of four-or-more parts, he achieves another effect: that of plethora, abundance, the unlimited, or what Professor Corbett calls the ‘weighty and exhausting.’ At times the effect is extended to that of the diversity that is confusion. With the longer series the writer moves from the certainty of the two-part, from the reasonableness of the three-part, to the more complicated emotional realism of the catalogue.” (Weathers, 97)

s, m, xl, fat
bl, br, chartreuse
$37.00 ($2.50 members)

Since the first order of business we did not conduct at the first tri-annual, bi-weekly departmental anti-meeting was to not appoint someone to take minutes, those of you not present at last Friday’s session will never know what happened there unless you ask someone who wasn’t there, but then that wouldn’t help. Just be advised and otherwise informed that this is not an apathetic society of sorts but a genuine movement toward anti-movement–unless trust is mis placed, in which case, those in formal dress will be considered to be in an anti-trust suit. (We can tell you, though, that attendance was good among those who went and not so good among those who didn’t.) (Please specify color and size and include your membership number on all checks.)

(available in either Beta or VHS)

A Cat and Its Tale   Since some members of the department left other members of the department holding the bill last Friday, there will be more departmental undergraduate-level ego stroking at a departmental anti-meeting, but not this Friday, owing to the disloyalty of some members of the department anti-organizing committee who think social engagements are more important than anti-social meetings and some members who won’t be sane enough to start the whole process over again this Friday. Therefore, the next anti-meeting will be held a week from this Friday (That’s February 22) (note the vag ref of “that’s) (SEE HNDBK, P. 24). There will also be a change in venue. (Idiom). The trial (see, I knew what it meant) will be held at the Sheraton Wayferer (sp?) in Bedford, NH, starting at 3:30 in the afternoon. (Mature audiences only. Must be 21 to order.)



What Editors Sometimes Really Think (Rated R)

Some editors define their job as being friends of the language. And as we all know from our friendship experiences, that can sometimes be very frustrating.

Parental Advisory: The following video contains a valuable lesson but does so by using words that may be unsuitable for young ears. And if you’re offended by four letter words, don’t watch. Your discretion is advised.