Gendered pronouns must go, and they’ll thrash the textbook publishers into conformity
Please examine the following sentence: “If a customer arrives after the closing hour, serve him anyway.” Notice the use of the “him.” The customer may be male or female; but in such a case we use the male pronoun. This is grammatically correct, since the language doesn’t seem to have a gender-neutral pronoun in the singular. The solution is to use the plural: “If customers arrive after the closing hour, serve them anyway.” But that doesn’t always work well.
When the students in our editor-tutorial program, encounter this problem in the little essays we assign them to write on Christian history, I sometimes tease them. I tell them I’m inventing some new pronouns as a solution. One of them is pronounced hearshe (he or she). or alternately (sheerhe). Or in the objective case I offer the English-speaking world the delightful himmerher (him or her) which is much easier to say than herrerhim. Similarly in the possessive, I propose hizzerher and/or herrerhis. When or if my new pronouns come into wide usage, I will assuredly be dead. But the students may be able to tell their grandchildren, they knew the man who enriched our language with those words.
In any event, all my satisfaction came to a swift end last month when I realized I’d been scooped by the Political Correctness movement. A 150-page brochure, on high quality paper, lavishly illustrated and exhaustively detailed, was published by the Alberta Teachers’ Association on all the new genders that are suddenly turning up in our elementary and high schools. It is not part of the much promised, much concealed new curriculum for the schools, but presumably issued in conjunction with it. I won’t go into it now, except in one tiny particular. It too is advancing some new pronouns, but the purpose is not to further gender identity, but to abolish it. The new specimen pronouns are shown beside this column, along with other ways de-gendering our social discourse. Few of the students know what a pronoun is, of course, but that hardly matters.
Government spokespersons stress that this brochure does not represent a government program; it’s merely the teachers’ union’s views on what should go into the government program. Now, it’s true, that the present minister was an ATA activist in the same area that the brochure covers. So he perhaps sits in judgment, to some degree, on his own work. Still, we didn’t elect the ATA, and we did elect the government, so one wonders why the government has plainly passed the job off on the union.
But let’s get back to the pronouns. This concept of altering the language to further a political agenda is not a new idea, but do not think the government cannot enforce the usage of these repulsive new words. Consider this: The book publishing industry, like the newspaper industry. is going through a desperate period. Print is becoming obsolete. However, text books, whether in a print or digital format, remain a major profit source. Would it not be possible for any department of education to look more favourably, let’s say, on an author who had adopted the new pronouns than one who had not? Would not publishers likewise be more likely to encourage those authors who conform?
I think they can be expected to do this. Look what educational bureaucracies have done already. They have quietly adopted a philosophy that is alien to most parents, in fact to most people. Parents entrusted them to educate their children with much the same values they held themselves. Instead they find their children being schooled with different ideas altogether. The state, that is, simply assumes it has the authority to conduct a form of intellectual abduction. It does not have that authority, but it exercised it anyway. Would such people shrink from muscling around a few book publishers? I think we can assume this process is already well under way.
Ted Byfield was founder and publisher of Alberta Report news magazine, general editor of Alberta in the Twentieth Century. a 12-volume history of the province, and general editor of The Christians: Their First Two Thousand Years, a 12-volume history of Christianity. His column on education appears in The Christians.com, a web journal. He has recently authored two little books on modern pedagogy: Why History Matters and The Revolution Nobody Covered. You can order both copies here.