The indignity!

A good friend who follows this blog — that is, he has clicked the FOLLOW box to the right, and therefore receives new posts in his email in-box– makes a helpful suggestion that has me wanting to roll up a newspaper and bop him on the head with it:

“If a person is using an ad blocker in their browser, they won’t see the “Follow” button in WordPress.”*

Can you spot what has me irate? He may receive Wordwork; he may even read it. But as they say at the Center for Army Lessons Learned (CALL) at Fort Leavenworth,** the lesson hasn’t been absorbed until behavior changes. He, who should know better without being hectored by me,  is mixing singular and plural in the same sentence: “if a person…,” “they won’t see…” He either didn’t receive this post, has forgotten it, or is waving a red flag before me for his own amusement. 

Allow me to repeat: The best way to avoid both confusing the reader by mixing the singular with the word “they” and falling back on the awkward he/she or his/her is to make everything in the sentence plural. My friend could have gone unbopped had he simply written “Readers who are using ad blockers in their browsers won’t see the ‘Follow’ button in WordPress.” 

Yes, I will someday address how to write about a person of complicated sexuality who wants to use the personal pronoun “they.” I’m trying to figure out how to do that inoffensively. If you have any ideas on that, please share them. 


* If you’re reading this on the web, do you see the FOLLOW box to the right? If not, try turning off your ad blocker for a minute and see if that helps. 

**That’s a link to one of my favorite stories from my time covering the military for The New Yorker (2004-2007).

One thought on “The indignity!

  1. Dan, Although I don’t always get it right, I am also a stickler for correct grammar. However, some rules do eventually fade away without much loss. I still don’t allow my students to split infinitives, but that doesn’t seem so important these days. I have pretty much given up on the they vs. him/her issue. The correction “him or her” often ends up sounding clunky. I know there are “go arounds” like your revised sentence, but sometimes the go arounds are awkward too. Is the NYT still insisting that “they” can never refer to “everyone” or “a person”? Just wondering. This is the first year I have not taught the more difficult subject verb agreement rules.


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