Tuesday, 24 April 2012

The Revenge of the Golden Cobra on She who must be obeyed.

From Usage and Abusage by Eric Partridge
their, them, they: for singular he, she, his or her.
It was rather like a jigsaw puzzle in which everyone contributed their own little bit of knowledge
Agatha Christie, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

An error commonly found in both speech and writing, and arising from our lack of a relative pronoun meaning his- or - her.
I wore the fillet of the Golden Cobra, which could only be worn by one who had overthrown the cobra of the seventh ordeal, and in so doing had added strength to their will.
(Joan Grant, Winged Pharaoh
In such cases the right pronoun is 'his', unless a woman is clearly referred to.

Eric, old chum, I heartily concur, up to a point. Time has move on and we now have the politically correct habit of using 'she' for the unmarked pronoun, in effect destroying a useful distinction. It is of course an American academical barbarism which by the pervasive colonisation of the banal has come to infect good English. The 'their'and 'they' that you deprecate is at least idiomatic and has the sense of an indefinite ungendered multitude.
Wikipedia has an informative article on gender her specific pronouns.

5 comments:

ktismatics said...

Whoever overthrows the cobra of the seventh ordeal can say it however she wants to say it.

ombhurbhuva said...

Eric and I often meet in the evening over a cup of cocoa and a ginger biscuit. He can be occasionally acerbic about my elegancies and literarisms and allows me but one ‘withal’ a year. Of elegancies he says:

"Here is a short list of those words and phrases which the semi-literate and far too many of the literate believe to be more elegant than the terms they displace. Some are genteel; some euphemistic some plain catachrestic."

Grant’s book Winged Pharaoh to be read when found in a barrow. You cannot merely send for such books they must come to you.

- Is there anybody there? Eric is that you? You’re very faint.

ktismatics said...

Does not friend Eric reveal a latent -- perhaps even a blatant -- misogyny by selecting as his bad examples passages written by women?

ombhurbhuva said...

Eric is forgetting that the usage has been hallowed by Shakespeare and Thackerey.


One would expect that if ‘he’ is in any way objectionable to women that it would be women who might statistically be greater users of the singular 'they’ but that does not seem to be the case. In
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Singular_they
instances of its use are found generally distributed.
- Someone called while you were out.
- Did they leave a message?

My chief point with it is that it is infinitely preferable to the affirmative action ‘she’.

ktismatics said...

And I've been dallying obliquely with your chief point rather than running headlong onto it. In informal writing -- like blogs -- I tend to go with s/he and him/her, unless I'm using the third person as a polite substitute for the first, in which case I go with he and him. In fiction I try to rephrase. Our daughter, having spent her grammatically formative years in France, is prone to using the impersonal "one," a stylistic distinction that has persisted despite chastisements of American teachers who regard the construction as stilted, perhaps even British.