The following excerpt is from a footnote on page 36 of the most nutty (and most helpful), logic textbook I own—Peter Kreeft, Socratic Logic: A Logic Text Using Socratic Methods, Platonic Questions, and Aristotelian Principles (South Bend, IN: St. Augustine’s, 2008). He writes:
The use of the traditional inclusive generic pronoun “he” is a decision of language, not of gender justice. There are only six alternatives.
(1) We could use the grammatically misleading and numerically incorrect “they.” But when we say “one baby was healthier than the others because they didn’t drink that milk,” we do not know whether the antecedent of “they” is “one” or “others,” so we don’t know whether to give or take away the milk. Such language codes could be dangerous to baby’s health.
(2) Another alternative is the politically-intrusive “in-your-face” generic “she,” which I would probably use if I were an angry, politically-intrusive, in-your-face woman, but I am not any of those things.
(3) Changing “he” to “he or she” refutes itself in such comically clumsy and ugly revisions as the following: “What does it profit a man or woman if he or she gains the whole world but loses his or her own soul? Or what shall a man or woman give in exchange for his or her soul?” The answer is: he or she will give up his or her linguistic sanity.
(4) We could also be both intrusive and clumsy by saying “she or he.”
(5) Or we could use the neuter “it,” which is both dehumanizing and inaccurate.
(6) Or we could combine all the linguistic garbage together and use “she or he or it,” which, abbreviated, would sound like “[word removed].”
I believe in the equal intelligence and value of women, but not in the intelligence or value of “political correctness,” linguistic ugliness, grammatical inaccuracy, conceptual confusion, or dehumanizing pronouns.
There you have it.
I know what you’re asking: Where does Grammar Girl stand in the debate? She starts out a bit shilly-shally (or is it dilly-dally?) but eventually seems to favor a bold and reckless solution—using “they.”
What do you think?