Wordwatch Towers

A plain language guide to punctuation, grammar and writing well.

Another he that could be a she

with 4 comments

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Dominic Lawson writing in the Sunday Times and Times Online says:

…perhaps some future traveller to Britain, centuries from now, will examine the excavated remnants of those giant wind turbines and speculate that they were the temples of some primitive faith. He would not be entirely mistaken.

Dominic seems pretty sure that any future traveller will be male.

This is a prime example of writing that exludes half the human race. He could have written:

They would not be entirely mistaken.

This would be both grammatically correct and gender neutral. The Oxford English Dictionary says quite clearly that ‘they’ can be used to mean ‘he’or ‘she’.

Find out more about gender-neutral writing in ‘Am I allowed to say that?’



4 Responses

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  1. Booooooo. Me no likes. Either make it all plural (“some future travelers/travellers”) or repeat the noun instead of using any pronoun.

    Michael Farrell

    26/02/2010 at 3:09 pm

    • Yes – I like the option of pluralising to solve the problem. Thanks, Michael.


      26/02/2010 at 3:11 pm

      • I find the objection to common gender ‘he’ utterly crass. Some of the women I know, women with balls, who would grind stereotypical feminists into the ground any time, use this word themselves. And if the situation occurred, they would rather be callaed ‘chairmen’ than neutral ‘chairpersons’ or inanimate ‘chairs’.
        Masculine – feminine – common – neuter – singularized plural: take your pick, but don’t dictate to others who feel equally strongly.


        27/02/2010 at 11:04 pm

        • Hello, Dai

          I’m not dictating: the piece above says, “He could have written”. And I actually prefer Michael’s suggestion to pluralise and thus avoid the problem (see above), rather than my original suggestion. Both are grammatically correct, but Michael’s is more elegant. I’ve written elsewhere that women should always be asked which term they would prefer when it comes to ‘chairman/chairperson/chairwoman/chair’ etc.

          All I’m talking about here is courtesy, respect, accuracy and inclusion. Not such a bad thing?


          28/02/2010 at 7:25 am

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