FaceBook confronted me with this pop pronoun quiz today. His profile? Or her profile?
Ixnay on the oicechay, aceBookFay. I’m opting for (c): “John edited their profile.” (Though I like the absurdity of “John’s profile was edited by John.”)
WTF you say?
Here’s the rub. First, as William S. Burroughs said and Laurie Anderson sang, language is a virus from out of space. (This is apropos of not very much, but it sets the discussion on the right scientific footing, don’t you think?)
Second, as a page deep in the subdirectories of Washington State University so nicely puts it, “Using the plural pronoun (i.e, they) to refer to a single person of unspecified gender (i.e., him or her) is an old and honorable pattern in English, not a newfangled bit of degeneracy or a politically correct plot to avoid sexism.”
Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Oscar Wilde, the King James Bible, Lord Byron, and even the persnickety George Orwell all went pleural-gender-neutral instead of the clunky his-or-her. So take that, dreary pedants who insist on enforcing that bone-headed belief.
Now on FaceBook, anyone in their right mind (Oops! I meant his or her right mind) would just pick their his or her preferred gender, and let the massive FaceBook database ensure, that from this day on, that their his or her MiniFeed was never again confusing. Of course this too is absurd. How many of my friends won’t know my gender?
But there’s the point: it’s not about clearing up the confusion for my friends. It’s about clearing up the confusion for FaceBook.
True, by opting for the nonexistent (c), “John edited their profile” sounds like I edited a group’s profile, not a person’s. Like, I dunno, the group “When I was your age, Pluto was a planet.” Or, “I Use my Cell Phone to See in the Dark.” Or, “Enough with the Poking, Lets Just Have Sex.” Better yet, I should start a new FaceBook group, “I choose a gender-neutral Mini-Feed.”
Meantime, if FaceBook can’t make an educated guess at my gender, and is too timid to risk offending me by getting it wrong, well too bad. I’m just going abstain — at least, until I get lucky on the “Enough with the Poking” site.