The Free Dictionary Blog > Ze Said/E Said: 5 Candidates for a Gender-Neutral Singular Pronoun
Ze Said/E Said: 5 Candidates for a Gender-Neutral Singular Pronoun
As gender identities become more fluid in our modern world, it's not surprising that there has been a call for more pronoun options than just "he" and "she." For grammarians and writers, however, this is a long-standing issue, since no pronoun in the English language can do the heavy-lifting of being vague in gender but specific in number. Many writers balk at constantly switching between "he" or "she," as well as using only one or the other, which can seem sexist. As the best established options are ambiguous ("one") or somewhat awkward or lengthy ("he or she," "he/she"), many gender-neutral pronouns have been posited over the centuries. Here are some examples:
In 1884, Philadelphia lawyer Charles C. Converse devised "thon"—combining "that" and "one." Gary Nunn of The Guardian explains that it "was the closest thing to a successful attempt at entering the vernacular; it was accepted by two major dictionaries and even adopted by some writers."
Even in the 19th century, grammarians grimaced at the clunky "he or she." Possible alternatives combined the two words, resulting in "hesh," "hiser," and "himer."
The Spivak Pronouns: American mathematician Michael Spivak threw his hat into the pronoun ring with "e," "eim" and "eir." Although certainly not part of common parlance today, the Spivak pronouns have caught on in some sci-fi, gaming, and genderqueer circles.
An option derived from trom the German sie ("they"), "ze" was accompanied by "zim," "zees," and "zeeself."
"They" doesn't attach a specific gender to its subject, and it is use as a singular pronoun is already widespread. Furthermore, distaste for the singular "they" is only a recent development. To find fans of the singular "they," look no further than Shakespeare and Jane Austen—not bad company to be in.
Although there is nothing close to a consensus on any of these options, many major universities—including Harvard, Cornell, and MIT—have begun offering students gender-neutral options like "ze," "e," and "they" on registration forms.
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