6.0646 Rs: They and Their (3/179)

Tue, 6 Apr 1993 11:16:02 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 6, No. 0646. Tuesday, 6 Apr 1993.

(1) Date: 02 Apr 1993 16:56:25 -0500 (EST) (13 lines)
From: Michael Metzger <MLLMIKEM@UBVMS.BITNET>
Subject: "They"

(2) Date: Sun, 4 Apr 93 16:03 CDT (20 lines)
From: Robin Smith <RSMITH@KSUVM>
Subject: Singular and Plural

(3) Date: Mon, 5 Apr 1993 10:02:49 -0600 (146 lines)
From: David Bantz <D-Bantz@uchicago.edu>
Subject: Re: Grammatical Illogicalities illustrated

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: 02 Apr 1993 16:56:25 -0500 (EST)
From: Michael Metzger <MLLMIKEM@UBVMS.BITNET>
Subject: "They"

There is another angle to "they" that has bothered me far longer than the
gender/number phenomenon, that has only (relatively) recently shown up in my
neck of the woods: For at least 15 years now, I have observed that students are
reluctant to understand that a work of literature has a single, personal
author or that a character has a particular identity. Thus, as often as not, a
student will say in discussion, "They're saying here, 'To be or not to be ...'"
Is there some hobgoblin out of Orwell at work here? Is there a deeper
linguistic phenomenon behind this? Or am I simply cursed with especially
dense and difficult students?! Michael Metzger (MLLMIKEM@UBVMS)
(2) --------------------------------------------------------------30----
Date: Sun, 4 Apr 93 16:03 CDT
From: Robin Smith <RSMITH@KSUVM>
Subject: Singular and Plural

I must confess that I am left quite unmoved by those who find it *illogical*
(and not simply a violation of a convention of standard usage) to use 'they'
as a generic singular. Here are two random points. In classical Greek, a
neuter *plural* subject always (well, virtually always) takes a *singular*
verb. That is, it is in effect a grammatical error to use a plural subject
with a plural verb, sometimes. In Elizabethan usage, I am told, certain plu-
ral subjects, usually for natural pairs ('eyes'), took singular verbs. And in
any event, the singular-plural distinction is a matter of grammatical conven-
tion: why is it any more logical to make a radical distinction between 'one'
and 'more than one' than to cut three ways, as do languages with dual number,
or for that matter to have one form for 'seventeen or less' and another for
'more than seventeen'?
And as for Yogi Berra's comment about the streaker: the joke is in the si-
tuation, not the syntax. Suppose he had said 'I don't know if it was a man or
a woman; *he* had a bag on *his* head'?
--Robin Smith
(3) --------------------------------------------------------------161---
Date: Mon, 5 Apr 1993 10:02:49 -0600
From: David Bantz <D-Bantz@uchicago.edu>
Subject: Re: Grammatical Illogicalities illustrated

David A. Hoekema: wrote
>...solecisms as...
>"each person has their own perspective".

J.J.Higgins writes:
>I think there is widespread acceptance, in Britain at least, for a
>genderless singular THEY

J. Russell Perkin writes: "Each person has their own
>perspective" strikes me not as a solecism but as
>an example of the inclusive usage I try to encourage

Rand David writes:
>I assume that [Hokema] objects to the word "their"
>because it is plural, and would prefer "one's" or "his/her"....
>but I would like to make a case in favour of the construction as it stands.

I spent some time browsing the O.E.D. (electronic version of course) for
examples of such constructions. Without supposing that their inclusion
constitutes unequivocal endorsement, it is interesting to see examples of
such usage over a span of 400 years. Herewith are samples (I only made it
through 'h' plus the entry 'their.') I've listed the main entry under
which each quotation appears.

Quotations from the OED illustrating the construction "Each.their."

1711 Ken Poet. Wks. II. 279 Each of the curst Arch-fiends their Legions led.

a'warding, ppl. a. Giving judicial sentence, deciding.
1620 Rowlands Nt. Raven 20 Each of an honest friend did make his choyse,
And bound themselues to their awarding voyce.

bigamy b.
1635 J. Taylor (Water P.) Old Parr D j, Each man had many wives, which
Bigamie, Was such increase to their Posterity.

1898 Daily News 8 June 5/2 Vassar, Syracuse, Cornell, Wellesley, and
Rosemary Hall have each their teams of girl basket-ball players.

1612 Brinsley Lud. Lit. 29 Each to haue a blotting paper to keep their
books from soyling, or marring vnder their hands.

1882-3 Schaff, Encycl. Relig. Knowl. 1236 Each may have received too
credulously that statement which seemed to favor their own views.

disrobe 2. refl. and intr.
1883 Gilmour, Mongols xviii. 211 You will notice that as they disrobe, that
each and all wear at their breast charms.

drum 6. as in cooking drum
1888 Pall Mall G. 10 July 13/2 A joint, a pair of chickens, a piece of
salmon, with vegetables, each in their separate dishes...

each 3. With reference to a sb. going before, or followed by of. Sometimes
incorrectly with pl. vb.
1678 R. Barckat Apol. Quakers xi. S7.354 Each made it their work to retire
inwardly to the Measure of Grace in themselves.

ear (of corn)
c.1665 P. E. Radisson Voyages (1885) 78 Each takes an ear of cone and putts
in their mouths.

1956 C. P. Snow Homecomings li 367 His profile confronted hers, each of
them firm and beautiful in their ectomorphic lines.

fancy 8.a. Capricious or arbitrary preference...
1600 J. Pory tr. Leo's Africa II. 315 Each..would interpret the opinions of
Mahomet according to their owne fancie.

fascine 1. Mil.
A. 1688 Sir T. Morgan, Relat. Progr. France (1699) 14 The
major-general.ordered the two battalions..each man to take up a long
fascine upon their musquets and pikes.

fraternity 4. A body or order of men. /*hence singular*/
1703 Maundrell Journ. Jerus. (1732) 70 Each Fraternity have their Alters
and Sanctuary.

frequency 4. b. Physics, etc....
1896 W. G. Woollcombe Pract. Work Physics III. 69 Take the average of these
numbers for each fork to represent the ratio of their /*i.e., each fork's*/

fumous obs 4. full of passion, angry, furious.
1684 H. More Answer 84 Each maintaining their cause with like fumous Animosity.

graft 1. b.
1650 Fuller Pisgah 389 Each of them [pillars] having half a cubit of their
shaft lost in their hight,...

groove 6. groove-fellow, one of a company of men working a mine...in
1829 Glover's Hist. Derby I. 74 Each person or company possessing their
meer or meers in partnership (called groove fellows).

hack 2. b. Football
1866 Daily Tel. 7 Nov.., The practice of 'hacking'..consists in each side
kicking their opponents' shins in so fearful and violent a mannier as to
disable the players.

hash 6. attrib.
1935 G. & S. Lorimer Heart Specialist VI. 168 Slim and Shorty each had two
gold stripes on their left sleeve that Slim called hash marks because they
were service stripes and stood for the number of years of free food they's
had on Uncle Sam, he said.

hoist 4. Naut.
1764 Veicht in Phil. Trans. LIV. 288 Each of these parts of the mast are
divided as to length, and have their proper names.. the middle part...is
often called the hoist, or hoisting part.

their 3. Often used un relation to a sigular sb. or pronoun denoting a person...
13.. Cursor M. 389 (Cott.) Bath ware made sun and mon, AiJer wit Jer ouen
light. C. 1420 Sir Amadace (Camden) l, Iche mon in thayre degre.
14.. Arth. & Merl. 2440 (Kolbing) Many a Sarazen lost their liffe.
1545 Abp. Parker Let. to Bp. Gardiner 8 May, Thus was it agreed among us
that every president should assemble their companies.
1563 Win%et Four Scoir Thre Quest. liv, A man or woman being lang absent
fra thair party.
1643 Trapp Comm. Gen. xxiv. 22 Each Countrey hath their fashions, and
1749 Fielding Tom Jones vii. xiv, Every one in the House were in their Beds.
1771 Goldsm. Hist. Eng. III. 241 Every person..now recovered their liberty. A.
1845 Syd. Smith Wks. (1850) 175 Every human being must do something with
their existence.
1848 Thackeray Van. Fair xli, A person can't help their birth.
1858 Bagehot Lit. Studies (1879) II. 206 Nobody in their senses would
describe Gray's `Elegy' as [etc.].
1898 G. B. Shaw Plays II. Candida 86 It's enough to drive anyone out of
their senses.
David Bantz <D-Bantz@UChicago.edu>
Director, Academic & Public Computing
University of Chicago
1155 East 60th St., Chicago, IL 60637-2745
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