Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Can our language be saved?

David Gelernter agonizes. I don't think the course he decries is reversible, and frankly, I don't care. I agree that it's historically inaccurate to suggest that generic "he" was meant to exclude women. But that ship, as they say, has sailed. Contemporary readers are now sensitized to the generic male pronoun and perceive it as exclusive. I'll also agree that "he or she," "he/she," and the space-saving "s/he" are ugly constructions. Personally, I like the tactic of replacing or alternating "he" with "she." I remember being jarred by that device when I first saw it, but it no longer creates any confusion for me, and I find it a satisfactory solution.

Do you find it distracting when an author uses a generic "she"? Have I just read one too many Cultural Studies texts?


Special K said...


Beau said...

I also approve of it. I also approve of the even more subtle pronoun arrangement "she and he" or "her and him." The placement of the male pronoun first always seemed a little derogatory in a no-one'e-really-paying-attention-to-
the-subtle-ways-we-speak sort of way. And there you have it.

Mrs. Chaka said...

My textbook on direct mail fundraising, Revolution in the Mailbox, always uses "she" in a generic sense. I think the author is simply trying to be gender neutral. The reality is, however, that middle aged women are most likey to respond to direct mail. So here "she" actually is describing a women. This makes the use of "she" completly contrary to his or her(Is someone named Mal a man or a women?) intentions.