Saturday, October 06, 2012

Grammar lesson 2

One of the most ridiculous misuses of the English language that is now considered (politically) correct is what has become known as the "singular they." These days, we are supposed to substitute the word they, them, or their for the old, chauvinistic, universal he.

I ran across this trend in my morning Bible reading. The updated (2011) NIV translation of Jeremiah 8:6 says, "I have listened attentively, but they do not say what is right. None of them repent of their wickedness, saying, 'What have I done?' Each pursues their own course like a horse charging into battle."

Two times in that one verse you see what I'm talking about...
"None of them repent of their wickedness...Each pursues their own course like a horse charging into battle."
In the first sentence above, None simply means "not one." It's singular. So good grammar would dictate that repent ought to be repents, and their should be his.  

In the second sentence, Each is a singular noun. Their is a plural possessive pronoun. The two don't go together. So again, the word their should be his.

Out of curiosity, I checked the 1984 NIV (which is the one I normally read). It uses good English grammar. It renders Jeremiah 8:6, "No one repents of his wickedness, saying, 'What have I done?' Each pursues his own course like a horse charging into battle."

In the 27 years between the two NIV translations, the universal he apparently met its demise. In its place, behold, the "singular they"! I suppose it is unfair to half the population to always go around using masculine pronouns. So unless we want to use bad grammar, we must resort to saying "he or she," or "one," or (in writing at least) either "he/she" or the more awkward "(s)he." But never the universal he.

I've noticed what some speakers do to avoid offending women. They will alternate between saying "he" and "she," just to keep us on our toes! So in some situations I guess it's OK to use the universal he, as long as the speaker or writer gives equal time to the universal she.

To each their own.

I just wonder if it's really such a big deal. Ladies, am I missing something here?
 

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