Monday, May 17, 2010

Thank You

I had a Cocktail -inspired epiphany when I was thirteen years old. It happened during the part of the movie when Tom Cruise and Elizabeth Shue were on the beach contemplating the existence of the hard part on the end of a shoelace and named it a flugalbinder. I vowed to myself that I, like Tom and Elizabeth, would cease to take the small things, like flugalbinders, for granted. From that point on, I was going to appreciate everything around me.

Driving with my mom shortly after my epiphany, I told her that I really appreciated the people who draw the lines on the road so we can tell which lane we’re in. She said, “That’s their job.”

That led to my next epiphany: people don’t make street lines out of the goodness of their hearts. After that, I tried to be especially grateful to those people who, without seeking compensation, have created the little things that have enhanced my life. So far, this is what I’ve come up with:

I treasure the person who saw the potential in the coffee bean. I imagine that over the centuries many people would have come into contact with the coffee bean, picked it up, put it in their mouths, screwed up their faces because of the bitter taste, and tossed it angrily onto the ground. So, whoever the genius was who had the foresight to see the coffee bean’s potential, I owe you my sanity and I thank you every single morning.

The other person I appreciate is the one who invented pronouns. Before the pronoun, I imagine this is what language sounded like:

Did you see the trousers Bartholomew was wearing to the party? The trousers Barthlomew wore today are the same trousers Bartholomew wore to last year’s party. Bartholomew should have known that Bartholomew shouldn’t wear the same trousers two years in a row.

I suspect that at some point someone screamed, “If I hear the name Bartholomew or the word trousers one more time, I will hurt somebody!” So, that person invented words to substitute for Bartholomew and trousers, which are now known as pronouns. Below is a list of some of the pronouns we use:

A man’s name = he or him
A woman’s name = she or her
A thing = it or one
A group of men or women or things = they or them

Here’s the section from above using pronouns:

Did you see the trousers Bartholomew was wearing to the party? The ones he wore today are the same ones he wore to last year’s party. He should have known that he shouldn’t wear the same ones two years in a row.

Isn’t it so much better? Thank you pronoun inventor.

Yet, as our use of the coffee bean has evolved over the years,

so has our use of pronouns.

Our change in the use of pronouns corresponds to our change in the view of women. Much like we used to use mankind to define all people (even the penis-free ones), we used to use the male pronoun to refer to persons of either sex. For example:

A bartender should make his drinks strong.

Even though we are talking about a bartender in general- which if you’ve seen Coyote Ugly, you know can be female as well- the tradition was to use the masculine pronoun.

But, thankfully, times they are a changing, and we use words like humankind instead of mankind and no longer use the masculine pronoun as the default. This is what we do instead:

A bartender should make his or her drinks strong.

Or, we can change bartender to bartenders and use a plural, gender-neutral pronoun:

Bartenders should make their drinks strong.

Beware: one of the most common errors is to use the singular subject and a plural pronoun:

A bartender should make their drinks strong.

This is incorrect because bartender is singular and their is plural.

The only time it’s acceptable to use a plural pronoun to refer to a singular noun is if you’ve actually had a strong drink.


~Nicole Ducleroir~ said...

Funny post! You know what annoys me? When you say to someone, "I saw the doctor about that rash." And the other person says, "Really, what did he say?" And it goes the same for attorneys we assume are male, and nurses we assume are female. Gender bias has certainly come a long way...but we're not there yet :))

And, I loved Cocktail!

Rick said...

I also love the poster. "When he pours, he reigns." lol

Mary Aalgaard said...

You are so wonderful. More later on why I'm hear enjoying your blog. One place that the male gender word is still default is "man" the post, station, booth, etc. Language might be evolving to allow the plural their with the singular nouns, but we'll see how irritated the grammarians get.