The Case for a Gender-Non-Specific Third-Person Singular Pronoun

Wow. That's the single most boring blog title ever written. Congratulations on braving it anyway and making it this far!

It occurred to me recently that there's a great need for a third-person singular pronoun in the English language that refers to a person whose gender is unknown. 

What? You don't think about these things?

This is actually something that's been nagging at me for several years, but it really evolved from a nag to a "Seriously, you guys, someone should do something about this" a few weeks ago when I was reading a murder mystery book by a talented indie author. In the story, the killer's gender is part of the big reveal, and the author had to pull some mighty big strings in order to not refer to said killer by "he" or "she" until she (the author) was ready to reveal the character's identity. 

For the sake of clarity, to drive home my point, here is a sample sentence that avoids using "she" or "he" that I made up just now and that is not in the book I'm referencing:

The killer entered the apartment building, stalked up the stairs, and approached the door.

See, in this instance, I'm trying to say that the killer approached his or her own door, but the only real way to say that without using "his" or "her" is to say, "The killer stalked up the stairs and approached the killer's door." And that just sounds dumb. But the way I have it above, "approached the door," is misleading, because since there's not a possessive pronoun before "door," it makes the reader think that the killer is approaching a door that belongs to someone else, likely the next victim. So the reader expects the killer to jimmy the lock, run right in, and strangle the bejeebus out of someone, when what really happens next is that the killer slips a key into the lock, enters his or her own apartment, and takes a nice, relaxing bubble bath in the Jacuzzi tub.

This makes for a very jarring reading experience.

Wouldn't the world be much better off with a gender-non-specific third-person singular pronoun? 

Let's say, for example, that we all agree that the word "che" is a brand new, widely accepted, third-person subject pronoun that can mean "either she or he." And the possessive form is "chis." Now let's take a look at our sample sentence:

The killer entered the apartment building. Che stalked up the stairs and approached chis door.

Now, putting aside the awkwardness of the sound of the new words...isn't that better? It's smoother, it keeps the gender a mystery, and it adequately informs the reader of whose apartment is about to be entered. 

With the addition of this new pronoun, writers would no longer have to struggle to manipulate the English language in awkward, clunky, and, unfortunately, obvious ways in order to avoid using a gender-specific pronoun. We would be free from that particular brand of tyranny! Hooray!

And there are other benefits, as well! The instances of people using "their" as a singular possessive would decrease significantly! "Someone go get their rocket fuel" becomes "Someone go get chis rocket fuel," a grammatically correct and still marvelously ambiguous order!

And think about the social implications! Now, when your pal says, "Oh, we're meeting up with my friend, Taylor," you don't have to wonder if you should awkwardly inquire as to Taylor's gender so you don't misrepresent him or her in upcoming conversation! No, you can tweak the form further and say, "Oh, great! I'm looking forward to meeting chim!" And, heck, maybe your pal follows up with, "Yeah, she's great!" on cue, because your pal will know that you're uncertain about the person's gender, simply because you used the third-person non-gender-specific object pronoun! What fun!

So there it is. I rest my case. 


Who do we talk to about getting this done?

Clayton SmithComment