The other day in my column, I ran an interview with Grammar Girl, the queen of the grammar podcast and my new e-friend. Her real name is Mignon Fogarty and she has a new book out, Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing.
The column was a Q&A with her, which I trimmed down to column length. Soon after, I got an e-mail from Fred in Southern California:
Your interview with Mignon Fogarty interested but puzzled me. I’m sure thatI wrote Fred back. But it didn’t occur to me until just now how two-faced I can be in situations like this. My column readers seem a very different set from the people who see my blog. The column appears in little community news sections that cover city hall votes and school plays. People who read it tend to be older and more traditional. People with names like Fred and Rose. You know -- people who scare me. So I tend to sugar-coat my responses: “Yes, traditionally you’re right. But authorities are loosening their standards on this stuff. Blah, blah …”
she must understand the principle of agreement of a pronoun with its antecedent;
yet, in response to your question “Do you get grief from grammar snobs?” she
responds, “…the more rude someone is, the more likely they are to be wrong”
[italics added]. Would it be rude of me to request a word of comment about her
The truth is, I believe that this rule is almost dead. The word “they” and its corresponding forms might not appear in the dictionary with the definition “he or she” yet. But I think they will soon. It has clearly become the most popular alternative to saying “he or she” in every sentence.
It’s a “skunked” usage right now: It’s in transition from being considered wrong to being considered right. Which means that lots of people who were taught it’s wrong will stand by that teaching. Understandably so.
Still, if anyone wants that rule to live forever, they are probably going to end up disappointed.
(Now I'm off to check whether I edited out of the Q&A any discussion of this what would have explained it before Fred fired up is computer! I'll probably run the full Q&A here soon, once the papers who carry my column have all had a chance to run it.)