Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Need for a Neuter Pronoun: A Solution

A couple of months ago, a New York Times Magazine's On Language column, that week written by Patricia T. O'Conner and Stewart Kellerman and entitled "All Purpose Pronoun", discussed the problem Twitter writers have because English lacks a neuter singular pronoun. People wondered whether "everyone" could be followed by the plural "they." Or was it necessary to use "he or she" and use up 9 of a Tweet's 140 character limit? I had an answer:

Dear Editor:
Concerning the he/she problem, I recommend that we use a group of new singular pronouns starting with the letter N. I choose N for neuter, and also because it's an underused initial letter in English. (I long ago noticed how few fiction writers have last names that start with N, and maybe that goes for the population as a whole?) NE, rhyming with she and he, will be the subject pronoun. We can go 50-50 on the sex-based endings for object and possessive pronouns, taking the ER from HER rather than the im from him, and the IS from HIS rather than the er/ers from her/hers: thus ne, ner, nis.

Let's try some examples.
Subject Pronoun: Ne. If anyone objects, ne should speak up now.
Object Pronoun: Ner. Go immediately to the person in charge and report the incident to ner.
Possessive Pronoun: Nis. Everybody must use nis own book.

It might take some getting used to, but if a few important people would use ne/ner/nis for neuter subject/object/possessive, soon everyone would. I can't make it happen myself but Barack Obama could. Or maybe Jay Lenno or Oprah. Which reminds me of one of my very short essays. Next: Merit Needs a Publicist.

1 comment:

  1. Here is an excellent resource on the subject of gender neutral pronouns, with a comprehensive list of candidates for singular subject-object-possessive trios. (Note, however, that ne-ner-nis is incorrectly given as ne-nis-ner.) My other posts on ne-ner-nis are at