But just to clarify, this isn't a political post. It's a statement of amazement.
Image: Map of Borschland with no relation to current post.
When I was in high school in the seventies, I would say my default was to use the word "they" for the generic singular pronoun. That is, I would write and say "Everyone should get their coats" or "Everyone should know where they're supposed to go."
At the same time, I'm pretty sure my teachers encouraged the use of the masculine generic singular pronoun-- that is, "he," "his," and "him": "Every traveler should have his boarding pass available" or "Every player should know what he is doing" or "everyone should keep his wits about him."
The argument ran that "person" was a singular noun, and that a pronoun that referred to that noun would have to be singular as well, to agree with its noun. And the masculine gender was considered to be default, by tradition.
"Tradition" probably referred to Latin, which by then had been used to shape English grammar for several hundred years. The masculine gender is default in Latin, though the words Latin uses for "his" ("eius" or a form of the word "suus") happen to be gender-neutral.
As a student of Latin, I appreciated the argument and changed my written usage.
But pretty soon after that, and as I progressed in college and graduate school, it came to my attention that using "he" and "his" as a generic singular pronoun could be considered sexist.
And so an interior debate opened: what should I use instead?
Some people were deciding to respect grammar but change their generic pronoun to "she" and "her." I sat up straight in my pew the first week I heard that usage from the pulpit of a church I was attending. And it's still done today, though most of the time the writer or speaker will alternate between "he" in one sentence and "she" in another, to be fair. Or, in referring to those in a dominantly female profession, such as elementary school teachers, "she" will be the generic.
Others faced with this issue decided to be creative, and used the abomination "s/he." Even worse were the coinages "e" (for he or she), "es" (for his or her), and "em" (for him or her). Apparently this kind of thing has been going on for quite a long time (click here for an amazing article-- a worthy timewaster).
Many of my friends and colleagues settled on "he or she" as a respectable if inelegant compromise, and so did I.
But nearly no one-- except for professional linguists (such as Stephen Pinker), who love to thumb their nose at populist grammar rules-- suggested that generic singular "they" and "their" were actually very logical.
Of course, everone could still use "they" and "their" as an alternative to the singular "he or she" by changing the example sentences to the plural, like so: "All people should know what they are doing." "All travelers should have their boarding passes."
And I do that fairly often.
But nowadays, as a side effect of the larger cultural wars concerning LGBTQ people, there is a growing chorus for using "they" and "their" in a new way: to refer to an actual specific person who does not identify as strictly male, or strictly female. This person is often referred to as "transgendered" or "trans."
So a trans might prefer a conversation about that trans person to go like this:
"Did you see Taylor this morning? They were so pumped up!"
"No, what's going on with them?"
"They got a 1500 on their GRE. They hadn't been expecting such a high score."
"Awesome. I'll text them and congratulate them."
Which brings me to the inevitable conclusion, which is not meant to be political at all, by the way.
We probably should just go back to "they" and "them" for the generic singular pronoun now that our trans friends are asking for the courtesy of its use with reference to them.
It's not the only reason, it's for me a tipping-point reason.
"They" is certainly not singular, but if Stephen Pinker thinks it's logical, we might as well go with that.
And it's all over the Internet that "they" has been used as a generic singular practically since English was beginning to be written down.
Not to say that everyone who uses something else besides "they" is wrong, shameful, and horrible. I think I will probably continue to pluralize everything just to maintain harmony with my readers.
But now I've gone full circle with "they," like a lot of things with my high school self.