No matter how their parents, schools and friends, early on, identified them sexually, people who view themselves as neither male nor female – transsexual, in other words – now semi-officially have a personal pronoun of their own: They – or ‘the singular they,’ as it was put by the Web of Language Distinguished Usage Panel, which unanimously declared, recently, that shall be the Word of the Year for 2015.
Hosted by noted linguist Dennis Baron, the Web of Language (his blog’s name) is widely recognized within the world of linguists as a leader on things linguistic – particularly, but far from exclusively, linguistic things in or concerning English. His panel includes . . . well, no one but himself, Baron admits in a ‘Truth in Advertising’ note at the end of the current issue of his blog.
But Baron himself, a professor of English and Linguistics at the University of Illinois – Urbana-Champaign, most assuredly is an expert in the field of linguistics (and, to a number of children, on when dinosaurs were extant and people were extinct: See his children’s book, ‘When People Roamed the Earth’.)
His growing list of books includes one published in 1986 (Yale Univ. Press) entitled ‘Grammar and Gender’, and his list of essays ranges over such topics as translations of the national anthem (‘Jose Say Can You See’) and other ‘official’ documents; how poorly equipped such entities as the CIA are to comprehend what terrorists and potential versions of same are saying (‘Help Wanted: Pashto’) and how wars so generously provide us with new words and phrases (‘Words and War’).
That list also includes, in a discourse on poorly purposed tomes on grammar, writing and misplaced commas, a retelling of the wonderful “Eats, Shoots and Leaves” joke – also the title of a British best-seller, eleven or so years ago, that, Baron points out, is as often inaccurate as accurate and, by the way, misses the point of the joke: It and similar witticisms, he says, “are meant to be spoken; The ambiguity – the humor – is in the ear of the beholder.”
There’s nothing humorous, to a transgender person, in being referred to as ‘he’ or ‘she’ or the opposite. To such people, there is no ‘opposite,’ there’s actually a different — a ‘third’, or neutral — gender.
This is not quite the same thing as when someone refers to themselves in the ‘royal we’ sense – as if they weren’t speaking about themselves as an individual but as something greater, numerically.
While politicians take much delight in talking about themselves, they seem to take even more delight in referring to themselves as plurals, perhaps, subconsciously, as if doing so will earn them the plurality that could sweep them into (or back into) office. (They shouldn’t count on it!)
That comment, regarding politicians, is, of course, a generalization, one most definitely proved to be so by a web site offering ‘36 Donald Trump Quotes that Prove He Can’t Be President’ – the first of which is, and I quote, “I have a great relationship with the blacks.” The list’s author – more than likely a politician or wannabe – responds, “Unless the Blacks are a family of white people, we’re not so sure.” (Emphasis mine!)
Trump consistently refers to himself in the first person (I or me), but what else would one expect from an individual is so totally self-absorbed, so totally impressed with his own wealth (specifics of which he doesn’t seem to actually, or accurately, know), his accomplishments (given that he built all he has on the back of a multi-million-dollar bankroll provided by his father), and his personal charm (such as it is — to most people, a total joke).
Transsexuals are as they are because that’s who and what they are, not, as some would have you believe also of gays and lesbians, as a matter of choice.
A gay or lesbian individual may choose to be identified via a personal pronoun usually used for a person sexually oriented as he or she clearly isn’t.
Until Dennis Baron’s Distinguished Usage Panel confirmed the growing use of ‘they’ as a personal pronoun transsexuals could, individually, claim as their own – their identifier, as it were – they were, as neither fish nor fowl, left floundering.
Except, of course, Caitlin Jenner, who early in the process of a physical transformation from one defined sex to another (even while, reportedly, still possessing a male ‘package’) comfortably shifted from one ‘standard’ personal pronoun to the other – as did much of the media covering ‘they’.