Social Question

Jeruba's avatar

And another thing: why do we list our pronouns?

Asked by Jeruba (55848points) December 18th, 2023
47 responses
“Great Question” (3points)

(I don’t; but many do.)

What’s with the list? Why does anyone say, for example, “My pronouns are they, them, their”? If they just say “they,” don’t the other ones have to be “them” and “their”? Would anyone ever say “My pronouns are she, them, and his”?

I mean, do we really have to spell it out like that? Are we giving grammar lessons? Seems like enough to say, if we have to say it at all, that one’s pronoun is H, S, or T.

That would also fit nicely on a button or lapel pin or even a modest tattoo on the back of the hand, saving others from having to memorize lists of particulars for everyone in their wider social and business environments.

Hi, my name is Jeruba (s).

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LadyMarissa's avatar

Demi Lovato lists her pronouns as her or they. Not sure when to use which one. Just when I thought I had learned the rules, she/they go & change them!!! Oh well, there’s a 100% chance that I’ll ever meet her & need to determine what to say. I’ve noticed that my pastor uses they when he doesn’t know the “preferred” for sure.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

Why do you care? What harm is done to you?

Jeruba's avatar

@LadyMarissa, if it’s “or,” then either one goes, so it’s easy to get it right. Anyway, if you did meet her, the pronoun would be “you,” right?

@Hawaii_Jake, for me it’s about the language. Naming your pronoun of choice, fine. Everyone takes for granted that we are talking about third-person pronouns (he, she, they, and their objective and possessive forms), not first-person singular (I, me, my, mine) or plural (we, us, our, ours) or second person (you, your, yours). All you need to know is which set to use and not a cumbersome list enumerating the whole set. The idea of overriding convention with specially designated pronouns that may test our memories is challenging enough, without having to list three or four words where a single letter would do.

kritiper's avatar

Because we’re PROud of them.

seawulf575's avatar

Yes, why would a grammar lesson be needed when a single person says they are “they”?

canidmajor's avatar

@Jeruba, if your curiosity and concern are solely about language usage, that surprises me. You have presented as impressively erudite, yet now you seem to be (and not just this once) perplexed by the fluidity and flexibility of the English language which is, itself, a bizarre stew of ethnic and cultural words and syntax.

flutherother's avatar

And what about “them thar hills”?

JLeslie's avatar

I think because so many people aren’t too swift when it comes to grammar. The best way to ensure a mistake isn’t made is to spell it all out. Some people seem to be very sensitive about this, so preventing a mistake is just easier.

I agree that simply naming one of the third person plural pronouns logically should be enough.

The example above of she and they given by @LadyMarissa is different, because that is naming a singular and plural pronoun.

Which would you pick as the standard? My pronoun is them? My pronoun is they? I think naming all three makes sense.

If I’m honest I think it is weird naming any of it in a signature, but at the same time it would be helpful to me in my work, because I often don’t know if someone is a he or a she by their name. I’ve worked with people named Thrusha and Robin for example. Michele from Italy was male (in America some women use the single L) and I personally know men named Kelly and Stacey. My work is international and online; I don’t meet most of my work colleagues in person. I have to ask gender a lot when talking about the reporters I pay.

LostInParadise's avatar

I have never seen anybody giving a list of pronouns other than grammar books. The only time there is a question of their use relates to use of third person singular. When discussing people, should the default be the masculine (he, him, his) or the plural (they, them, their)? We have been through this discussion before and I don’t care to reopen it.

Forever_Free's avatar

I think you are either missing the concept or treating this without the respect that is intended.

It is not about grammar. It is about identity.

Added for reading reference Why Pronouns Matter.
Pronouns affirm gender identities and create safe spaces by referring to people in the way that feels most accurate to them.”

janbb's avatar

@LostInParadise You’re missing something. In the circles I travel in, particularly my faith community, speakers often introduce themselves by listing the pronouns they prefer to be called by. This has arisen in recent years because of gender non-conforming, trans and non-binary folks (folx?) not wanting to be mis-named.

JLeslie's avatar

@janbb You’re missing something. @LostInParadise is saying what you said.

@LostInParadise The OP didn’t say anything about being considerate in regards to using the pronoun a person prefers. She only was talking about unnecessary examples of the preference stated. The redundancy.

I don’t understand why jellies are accusing her of not being empathetic to the reasons behind why people state their pronoun preference.

Forever_Free's avatar

^^ This is allowing for fluidity as a person may identify with more than just one pronoun.
Additional reading from National Institute of Health
What are Gender Pronouns? Why Do They Matter?

janbb's avatar

@JLeslie No – he’s not. Read over what he said. He has never seen it done and I’m saying I see it done a lot recently.

Forever_Free's avatar

I agree with @janbb The common expression list multiple. This is common in almost every business signature line now for those choosing to identify.

JLeslie's avatar

@janbb That’s my mistake I was reading Forever Free’s answer and mixed it up with @LostInParadise. Going too fast. LostInParadise missed the point of the Q.

LostInParadise's avatar

I am confused. Could someone give an example of the use of pronoun lists? Am I correct to say that it only arises for the use of third person singular reference to people?

Cupcake's avatar

I’ll just add here that it is to signify what specific pronouns are acceptable to use. For some, it will be exclusively their gender pronouns “she/her, he/him, they/them”, for example. For others, they accept a range of pronouns, “she/they, he/them”, etc. Only people who accept all pronouns for themselves will use “she/he/them”, or something similar… which, of course, is possible.

I don’t get your point about using a single letter. My memory doesn’t work well at all and I wouldn’t know what the letters stand for, so that would require more effort on my part. Also, “H” could be “he/him” but could also be “her”. So I can’t see how that would be a benefit.

janbb's avatar

@LostInParadise “I’m janbb. My pronouns are she, her, and hers.” But I could look like a woman but be a male trans person and say, “I’m janbb. My pronouns are “he and him.” Or I could be non-binary or gender neutral and say, “My pronouns are they and them.” The point of it is that people’s appearances don’t always indicate their preferred gender.

I tend not to say it myself because most people know I identify as female so I find it a bit performative but that is how it is used.

Does that make it clearer?

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

Typing a single letter after one’s name is most certainly not enough. Everyone in my work lists their academic designations after their names in their signatures. Adding a single H would be extremely confusing.

This question reveals implied bigotry and makes me angry.

Where’s the heart? Why is language more important than actual living, breathing people?

I’m out.

LostInParadise's avatar

Thanks @janbb , this is definitely related to singular third person pronuns for people. I have not run across anyone giving such a list.

janbb's avatar

@LostInParadise Yes, since that is the one that is gender related.

tinyfaery's avatar

The only place I see pronouns listed is on social media. I have never heard anyone actually telling someone their preferred pronouns, and I have only seen it in a work related setting once or twice?

On social media, people list it in their bios so they are not improperly gendered when addressed. Funnily enough, I notice that cis people do it much more than anyone else. I see it as being an ally.

This is the second question you have related to pronoun use and I don’t understand what is so hard to accept.

JLeslie's avatar

@Cupcake He is for male, She is for female, and They is for other (I hope no one is offended by the word other, but I think you understand my point).

That is the H, S, T.

If someone is a He, I know that he will be a him when I’m writing or speaking without someone telling me, and I will use his when needed. That’s just an automatic part of how the English language works.

She will be her or hers.

They will be them or their depending on the sentence structure.

The gender stays the same whether singular or plural.

janbb's avatar

@tinyfaery People do say it at my congregation when speaking from the pulpit. Not everyone but many people. (Maybe it’s a Unitarian thing) That and in Zoom meetings are the main places I’ve seen it used.

Demosthenes's avatar

I do wonder why the other cases need to be listed. What I have also seen is someone listing multiple acceptable pronouns by their nominative forms: he & they, she & they, etc. I’m less clear why pronouns from the same schema are listed with multiple case forms, but that seems to be standard in some instances. Perhaps it is to avoid a single small word appearing next to someone’s name and this being confusing as to what it refers to? Or perhaps it is similar to languages with general noun case where nouns are listed by their nominative and genitive forms (as opposed to a single nominative lemma). The fact that in English, pronouns are the only nominals with case makes “listing” them a bit different from listing any other noun. What I’ve seen in multiple workplaces is pronouns listed with the nominative and oblique cases: she/her, he/him, they/them.

I don’t have an issue with pronouns being listed as long as it is not mandatory to do so. I do think it is a bit superfluous in most uses. It makes more sense when a preferred pronoun is an exception rather than the default.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@Jeruba To answer your original question, the reason that people give a list of pronouns instead of just one is rooted in historical practice. Specifically, it has to do with the use of neopronouns. The nominative, accusative, genitive, and reflexive forms of our standard pronouns are all tightly linked. “He” goes with “him,” “his,” and “himself.” “She” goes with “her,” “hers,” and “herself.” And “they” goes with “them,” “their,” and “themself/themselves.” But neopronouns do not necessarily behave that way.

Someone who uses “ze” as their nominative pronoun does not necessarily use “hir” as their accusative pronoun. There are several reasons for this (such as the ad hoc nature of their creation, their lack of any single or authoritative source, and the fact that they are highly personal by design), but the result is that someone who uses neopronouns must list the ones they prefer. The original convention was to list three pronouns (since the reflexive form follows from the accusative), but many people only give two these days.

Since neopronouns never really caught on, the vast majority of people—including trans, non-binary, and other gender expansive people—now use he, she, or they (and their associated forms). But the tradition of listing two or three pronouns has continued on because that’s how it was originally done. And while the multiple pronoun format may seem like a useless historical artifact, it has been repurposed by those who use more than one set of pronouns (e.g., those who list themselves as he/they or she/they).

Cupcake's avatar

@JLeslie I don’t know what point you are making to me. Is it specifically about using one letter? I still think it’s stupid and confusing. Or are you arguing that pronouns for women are she/hers, for men are he/his, and for “others” are they/them? That’s overly simplistic and not true (may be true for most, but not all).

JLeslie's avatar

@Cupcake I’m trying to explain why listing she/they is completely different than listing she/her. You seem to not understand that above since you didn’t understand the OP’s suggestion of using one letter.

Forever_Free's avatar

This thread has so much microaggression. Please try to understand the foundational concept and not boiling it down to grammar or diminish it into one letter.

jca2's avatar

@Forever_Free The OP mentioned grammar so I think that’s why people are reviewing the grammar aspect. Just my guess – I didn’t attempt to answer it.

JLeslie's avatar

@Forever_Free The Q is about grammar.

The LGBTQ+ community is not the only people who can benefit from listing pronouns.

The problem with the topic (not the Q) is it has been only portrayed as a LGBTQ+ issue, but actually it can be beneficial in our multinational online world. It’s just like climate change, if the issue had been framed more about clean air, clean water, and energy independence, it might have helped avoid it becoming such a wedge issue.

Forever_Free's avatar

@JLeslie I respectfully disagree. What I see is intolerance and attempting to change or diminish something that people are uncomfortable with.

JLeslie's avatar

@Forever_Free Well, I know the OP to be quite empathetic, understanding, open, accepting, caring, and an editor. She is one of our jelly experts in the English language. She probably looks at the English language from a fairly literal viewpoint of the rules and how it works.

If someone wants to answer that they understand her point, but feel there is no reason to change how it is currently being done because it is more confortable for people, which seems to be your the answer, or because of the tradition, which seemed to be the answer @saviorfare gave, fine, all of those are valid arguments. Additionally, I agree one letter wouldn’t be enough, because I think people too often won’t know what it stands for. It’s something else to not understand what the OP is talking about from a grammatical standpoint.

Both things are possible at once: to say her point about the grammar makes sense and to say talking about the topic (just talking about it) can upset people who feel it is dismissing or attacking them. Furthermore, we can emphasize that trying to change how it is currently done will likely feel offensive to some groups in society. I think the OP will accept that answer knowing her.

Instead the people saying the Q is upsetting say nothing to agree with the OP’s point about the grammar or don’t understand her point.

I deal with micro-aggressions too, so I understand how it can feel, but I try not to assume mal intent from someone who I know for years, who I know not to be anti-Semitic and not anti-women. Your way just will shut down discussion of a topic.

canidmajor's avatar

@JLeslie Read my first post on this thread, it addresses your “she’s an expert 9n the English language” thing.

Forever_Free's avatar

@JLeslie “My way” was never intended to shut down discussion. It was intended to further the conversation.
Most often, microaggressions are aimed at traditionally marginalized identity groups. Yet these hurtful actions can happen to anyone, of any background, at any professional level coming from anyone. However, research is clear about the impact seemingly innocuous statements can have on one’s physical and mental health.
The reality is that microaggressions are not so micro in terms of their impact. They should be taken seriously, because at their core they signal disrespect and reflect inequality.
The more you increase your awareness of microaggressions, the more you will inevitably notice they are happening — that is my intention as is the point of most of the posts here. Awareness, education and open discussions.
Being honest about your level of familiarity with the subject at hand helps gauge and remind the difference between intent and impact. Sometimes simply highlighting this can be enlightening if a person is truly open to hearing another persons perspective.

JLeslie's avatar

@Forever_Free Your way was intended to further the discussion about what?

I actually agree with everything you just wrote just now about microaggessions, but also I do think intent matters. Not that I think the person saying harmful things should continue, almost always I think they should change, because I think we need to believe people when they say something is offensive or scary to them. I also think the minority who feels offended or attacked needs to believe the person who is trying to explain what they meant by what they said. It should be a mutual education for both parties.

Maybe you can tell me how the OP could have worded the question so that people would not have felt it was an attack? Or, should she not have asked the Q at all if she was being sensitive? I ask this for myself, because I would like to know how it can be done not only for this situation, but other discussions too.

Forever_Free's avatar

@JLeslie Rereading the OP conveys to me being dismissive as opposed to wanting to be enlightened.

canidmajor's avatar

I realized I didn’t answer the question as written, but really, my first post does sort of cover it.

It just happened organically when people started to do it. I would guess the “list” is about emphasis, to reinforce the point being made. Why do people say “free gift”? For emphasis. Redundancy helps to make a point. This is so very basic a linguistic trick as to be almost unnoticeable by now.

Nobody sat down and said “let’s do this, as opposed to using letters or full, extra sentences to describe how we would prefer to be addressed.” There is no committee, nobody had a meeting, there is no conspiracy.

And @JLeslie, for someone to question language relative to this issue, more than once, is often used as a means to express disapproval of the lifestyle. I have no idea what sort of attitude @Jeruba has toward people who use pronoun designations, maybe it’s entirely benign, but mostly when I have encountered these types of questions it is not.

You have said in the past that you dye your hair. Are you happy when people ask you why you chose that color when they think a different color might be better? Why dye it at all? Are you so vain that you can’t accept aging? Do you really think you are fooling anyone? Any or all of those questions are offensive, unless you have invited them. Questioning someone’s personal choices, if they don’t affect you negatively, is, too.

janbb's avatar

Just to add to the discussion, I’ve noticed in my congregation, most people are just naming two pronouns now, i.e., “she, her”, rather than listing all three. I’ve actually never heard anyone mix them – it’s usually “she, her”, “he, him” or “they, them.” As I’ve said above, I see it as being used to distinguish gender as distinct from appearance or in the service of allyship.

When I was back there in library school. we talked about the difference between prescriptive and descriptive dictionaries. Some rigidly proscribe the way language should be and some describe how it is evolving and being currently used. An interesting distinction to keep in mind.

canidmajor's avatar

@janbb I never hear more two, either. I have two young (in their mid-20s) friends who are taking their time to transition (I think more for the sake of not shocking anyone) who are now in a “he, they” stage. I expect that they will shift all the way in another few months.

And your second paragraph wins the day! I didn’t know the right words for the differences in the approaches to language.

JLeslie's avatar

@canidmajor I could care less if someone asks me about my hair color. I ask people what color they use if I like their hair color.

A few months I posted on facebook (very public forum) that I was attempting to dye my hair back to my usual medium-darkish brown from the blonde I had had for a few months and the color came out much lighter. I took one look in the mirror and it looked like my childhood hair color. I walked out to the living room to show my husband and the first thing he said was, “looks like your hair color in your photos when you were a kid.” I posted a photo on facebook.

I probably wouldn’t compare hair color to gender though. Hair color seems fairly frivolous to me in comparison to gender.

I think assuming @Jeruba has a problem with trans people is offensive. Even if she does, I don’t think her intention is ever to be hurtful to anyone. It feels pretty bad to be misperceived by people.

canidmajor's avatar

@JLeslie Your naïveté is astounding. Your willingness to ignore the message for the details is silly. <eyeroll>

And I’m out.

Forever_Free's avatar

@JLeslie Yet you were ok with questioning my intention!

JLeslie's avatar

@Forever_Free I don’t think I did. Maybe you can show me where? Possibly I wrote something accusatory that I don’t remember now. I remember explaining how I perceived the original post and the original poster and asking you some questions. Asking a question is not an accusation. Were you asking the original poster or other jellies their intent or just telling them they are full of negative feelings towards the trans community?

Forever_Free's avatar

@JLeslie “Your way just will shut down discussion of a topic”, was your statement. I previously stated my intent. Feel free to scroll up to read.

JLeslie's avatar

@Forever_Free I remember writing that. I don’t see how that is assuming your intention. I am saying that what you said made me feel like you did not want to discuss it. If I misinterpreted, I gave you the chance to respond. I didn’t accuse you of being malicious.

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