Thursday, April 21, 2011

Kiss This

Pretend you’re a contestant on the Dating Game (also, pretend the Dating Game is still on the air), and you ask Bachelor #1, “What is your idea of a romantic evening?”

He replies, “We would go to my house where I would have strawberries dipped in a rare Belgian chocolate waiting for you. Then, you would slip them into my mouth seductively as I play Xbox all night long.”

You laugh nervously and then say, “Bachelor #2, the same question.”

He responds, “We would go to the beach where we would sip fine champagne, nibble on Brie, and watch the sunset. Then, we would dine at a quaint Italian restaurant overlooking the ocean. After dinner, I would take you to my favorite place, a place that is sacred to me—Haus of Live Nude Girls."

You decide that maybe you should switch to another question. You flip through your note cards and find this one : “Bachelor #3, If you could invite anyone to dinner, who would it be and what would you talk about?”

He replies, “I would invite my ex-girlfriend Rose. We would talk about why the #$%! she wasted five #*$!ing years of my life and then left me for that jackass, Ronaldo."

None of these bachelors seem like satisfying options, right?

That’s kind of how I feel about the options we have for completing the following sentence:

Each person has _____ own idea of what constitutes the perfect date.

Back in the day, we would use the word his because we defaulted to the masculine:

Each person has his own idea of what constitutes the perfect date.

But today, most people consider that sexist, which, in my opinion, it kind of is.

Technically, we should fill in the blank with his or her:

Each person has his or her own idea of what constitutes the perfect date.

But some people (myself included) feel that sometimes that sounds too awkward.

Consequently, more and more of us (myself included) tend to do this:

Each person has their own idea of what constitutes the perfect date.

However, technically, this is grammatically incorrect because each person is singular and their is plural.

Sometimes, I make the subject of my sentence plural so that I can use their:

People have their own ideas of what constitutes the perfect date.

There’s actually an interesting debate about this dilemma in the comments section of this Grammar Girl post.

And here's a hilarious post about a horrible first date. (It involves nose sex.)

21 comments:

Maria said...

Yep, this is one where I defy the rules of grammar because to use "his" to me, IS sexist, and actually, reads kind of antiquated, and to write "his or her" just gets cumbersome.

Jeffrey Beesler said...

Or you could also go with, "Each person has an idea of what constitutes the perfect date." I'm not sure how this one fares with other alternatives, but it bypasses the his or her quagmire and the singular versus plural war front nicely.

Bethany Elizabeth said...

His never has seemed sexist to me. I include myself in the word 'mankind,' I consider myself in the race of man, and I don't feel like 'woman' is discounted. In the Latin languages, all nouns - including groups of people - have genders. A group of girls is feminine, a group of men is masculine, a group of men and women is masculine. This really doesn't feel sexist to me. Yes, maybe we chose 'mankind' and 'he' because of a patriarchal society. Fine. But that's just how language is sometimes, and I wouldn't say anyone means anything by it now. Possibly not even then. :)
Still, I hate this dilemma too.

Duncan D. Horne said...

So wouldn't this sentence be better:

"Each person has ones own idea of what constitutes the perfect date."

That sounds like it solves your dilemma to me, without being the slightest bit sexist or ungrammatical.

What do you think?

Duncan In Kuantan

Theresa Milstein said...

I've done "s/he" to cover both, but "his or her" doesn't flow well. Maybe a new word, "hisher" or "herhis"?

Way back when, their used to be acceptable, and I think we should go back to it. I wrote this on an old blog post:


I just read in, When You Catch an Adjective, Kill It by Ben Yagoda, "Before the eighteenth century, writers and speakers typically referred to an indefinite subject... with a they, their, or them..." (Page 184). He predicts that this will once again become the norm by the middle of this century. Let's hope so, because him or her, she or he, s/he, or the standard (and sexist) him or her muddle sentences.

This was in response to a quote by Jefferson, which I had thought was grammatically incorrect:

“Nothing can stop the person with the right mental attitude from achieving their goal. Nothing on earth can help the person with the wrong mental attitude.”

Stephen Tremp said...

I am so glad I have a editor LOL!

Mary Aalgaard said...

I tend to defer to the plural in most cases. I think that girl should go on a different game show.

notesfromnadir said...

You forgot each person has 'his/her' idea of... ha, ha, ha. I always think I'm supposed to circle one of the words in red ink!

Yeah, reading old books I see his, him, he, etc. ALL the time. Now we're all neutral!

Liz said...

I always say "their" and then mentally kick myself. But I would rather chance being grammatically incorrect than sexist!

Sharyn said...

How about: "We all have our own ideas about what constitutes the perfect date."

Holly Vance said...

You are my only grammar girl! But the whole equal opportunity pronouns makes me a bit nutty too.

Nose sex?

Kelly said...

I so have had that dilemma on which pronoun to use! And I've probably used each instance at one time or another!
And thank goodness the Dating Game isn't on anymore. It would turn skanky fast.

Hold my hand: a social worker's blog said...

I hope "their" goes back to be the norm... :-)

Doris

Glynis said...

It gets so confusing at times! :)

Carolina Valdez Miller said...

I remember having this debate with my MA mentor in college who had been an editor for many years. We never came up with a decent solution, except we both agreed to never use s/he.

Dylan Fitzgerald said...

I like the rewording to make the plural verb work-- "people" rather than "each person." I've tried using "one" and "oneself" in those scenarios, but I just come out sounding like a pompous idiot... alas.

Stephanie Faris said...

I'm always finding myself rewording sentences to get around this dilemma! I've found that the "his or her" option just makes the sentence clunky, grammatically appropriate or not. It's frustrating because their sounds natural to us now, having heard it so often.

Crystal Pistol said...

Funny post. Love it! I tend to flucuate. Sometimes I use his and sometimes I use hers. I want to be fair as often as possible.

Nose sex? Hmmm. sounds painful and embarrassing. I'll check it out.

Lorena said...

Oh, I used to love that show! (I secretly wished I could have been on it! :-))

It's funny that you wrote about this subject, because I JUST had this conundrum with my post yesterday. I started using both genders he/she (I even toyed with the idea of using s/he), but after a while it was driving me crazy because I had to use so many of them, plus the him/her!! I opted to use he/him in some parts and she/her in others. Not too happy with the results, but it's one of those instances where none of the options seem right. Sexist or not, the standard he/his was MUCH simpler and nobody had to worry about what to use or how to reword the whole thing to avoid gender usage. We are so politically correct nowadays and so afraid to hurt people's feelings that we complicate things and spend too much time on minor details. I'm just very sorry that someone (probably a "she") opened this can of worms...

William said...

Jenny,

This site just keeps getting better, much like you. Q: Better at what? A: Fashion and function. It looks great and always supplies the grammar goods. Keep up the good work.

WB

Missed Periods said...

Hi William. Thank you.