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Most of my pet peeves have to do with words and their use, misuse, and abuse — though baseball caps worn backward irritate me too. Give me a few more years and I’ll probably let my inner Kowalski run free, but so far I’ve kept him pretty well in check: I’m generally a live and let live kind of guy.
The use of the third-person plural pronoun “they” in reference to a single individual has always stuck in my craw. Saying “he or she” isn’t so hard, and has the virtue of grammatical correctness. Anyway, that’s what I thought, until I bothered to look up the use/misuse of the word in this context.
If the precedent of historical usage counts for anything — and it counts for quite a lot, where words are concerned — I have to give this one up: since at least the 13th century, people have been using “they” when they mean “he or she” but either don’t know the sexual specificity or don’t want to waste breath communicating it. I may be lexicologically cantankerous, but this isn’t the wild west and I’m no cowboy: if the law says “they” works, then “they” works. Let it go.
At least, that’s what I figured, until it struck me that saying “he or she” has the virtue, beyond simply being grammatically squeaky-clean, of
rubbing the noses in gently communicating to a modern “woke” audience the truth that there really are only boys and girls, men and women. I’m willing to spend a couple of extra syllables to drive that point home, even in contexts where it’s completely beside the point and of no interest to anyone but me. So, even though I could use “they” to mean “he or she,” and do so feeling completely exonerated by its rich and ancient pedigree, I’m not going to, because we live in an era when people need to be reminded of even the simplest and most obvious truths, lest they be seduced by farcical tales of gender abundance and start inventing idiotic pronouns for themselves.
Now get off my lawn.