Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The English language needs a few more words: Part One

The massive and authoritative Oxford English Dictionary now includes about 600,000 words.

That's not enough. We need some more.

Here's a common statement from Amazon.com: "This biography was provided by the author or their representative."


If I was a monkey reading that sentence, I'd throw turds at someone.  As a more highly evolved homo sapiens, I instead protest with a blog post.
  • "Author" is singular.
  • "Their" is plural.
  • They don't go together.
"Their" has become a common short replacement for "his or her," and I hate it so much I want to fling shit. I refuse to use the word in that way.

In my own writing, I use a mix of "his or her," "her or his," "her" and "his;" but I don't keep track of my use of each term. I try to promote gender equality, with perhaps a 10% edge to the female words as linguistic affirmative action to make up for past discrimination when "his" and "him" dominated.

Many writers and publishers reject "his or her."

I reject "their" as the replacement.

"His/her" is shorter than "his or her," but looks ugly and is verbalized as if the slash is an "or."

So, we need a new word.

I've thought of some possibilities ("hisher" and "shis") but so far I have not used them in print.

Shakespeare introduced many new words. Maybe I'll try "hisher" or "shis" or something else in a future book. Someone has to do it. "Hisher" and "shis" are already in the Urban Dictionary  (along with a disgusting alternative meaning for "shis"), and with some help the words might make it into the OED.

Of course, both "hisher" and "shis" reveal gender preference because of the sound sequence, so maybe we need an entirely new and neutral term.


1 comment:

  1. I like your idea of coining a new word to resolve the sexist his/her issue. I suggest combining the vowel from one pronoun and the final consonant from the other pronoun with the letter "h" (which is common to both pronouns) to form either "hes" or "hir."
    Please feel free to use either of these new "words" in your next book.