(NPR) — No part of speech gets people more worked up than pronouns do, writes grammarian Geoff Nunberg. History is dotted with instances of outrage over pronoun use.
But, in fact, people have been proposing gender-neutral pronouns for 150 years.
For anyone struggling to use “they” as a singular pronoun, linguist Geoff Nunberg says: Just practice. He believes human language processing capacity is far more adaptable than people realize.
The new use of “they” has passed muster with the AP's style guide and the American Heritage Dictionary. In theory, anyone can adopt it, whatever their gender identity. But we'll still be using “he” and “she” to refer to most individuals who identify as male and female. You can introduce new gender-neutral terms without driving out the gendered ones. “Sibling” has been part of the everyday language for more than 50 years, but we can still talk about brothers and sisters. When someone says, “Taylor has a lot going for them,” it's a fair bet that that's the pronoun that Taylor prefers to be called by.