Has he been trumped?
Updated: Jan 21, 2021
Photo: NBC News
No, I don’t mean Trump. We know the answer to that. I mean the word ‘he’.
Along with ‘she’, ‘he’ is technically known as a third-person singular pronoun. Those words conventionally act like lexical avatars, standing in for someone previously mentioned in the text.
Sorry, that was a bit of a mouthful. I’ll explain it with a very, very simple example. I’ll use Trump for this.
If I wrote: ‘Trump has left the White House’, I could follow it up with something like: ‘He has retired to Florida.’ Here, the pronoun ‘he’ is standing in for the former US prez.
But, have you noticed that the pronouns ‘he’ and ‘she’ are being replaced by gender neutral terms ‘they’ and ‘them’?
Let's talk about sex
Check your social alerts. A typical one would read:
‘It’s Donald’s birthday. Help them celebrate.’
The alerts never say ‘help him celebrate’. Why? Well, partly because Donald has very little to celebrate at the moment.
No, seriously, the reason is because, however clever algorithms are, they know very little about sex.
But actually, as I get older, I realise that I also know very little about sex. Please, stick with me…
The reason I know so little about sex is because, as more people identify as non-binary, the words ‘he’ and ‘she’ become problematic.
Also, as more people make social media norms their social norms, they push ‘they’ and ‘them’ in front of ‘he’ and ‘she’ (as well as other gender-specific terms like ‘him’ and ‘her’).
To keep it topical, you could say ‘they’ is to Joe Biden what ‘he’ is to Donald Trump.
Has he been trumped? Not yet. Maybe you could think of the pronoun as living in a retirement village in Florida. It may be on its way out. But it is unlikely to go without a fight.
We simply need to be mindful of how we use pronouns when we write. If you are sending a message to a very broad audience, and you want to be as inclusive as possible, gender neutral terms may well be the best option.
Thanks for reading.
And get in touch if you want any help with your messaging.