Hizzen and Hern

I am sick to death of butchering the English language in the name of gender-neutrality.

No, I’m not a misogynist (as long as you keep makin’ them sammiches! – sorry, I couldn’t resist).  No really, not a misogynist at all.  I absolutely understand and completely agree that English could and should evolve to reflect the fact that approximately half of humanity is female.  I have no problem with that.

Here’s what I do have a problem with.  I was reading one of the blogs I follow and the author concluded with this sentence:  “A writer that can create this kind of epic and heartfelt rivalry between their characters has all the conflict they need to drive their story.”

The subject of the sentence is “a writer.”  He could have chosen “the writer,” but he opted for an indefinite article.  A singular indefinite article.  Not all writers, or some writers, or even two writers.  Just one single indefinite writer.  Later in the sentence he mentions two things that belong to this indefinite singular writer: characters and story.  To indicate that these items belong to the singular indefinite writer, he uses a third person possessive pronoun.

Now this singular indefinite writer, being human, must be either male or female.  Doesn’t matter.  We have a singular third person possessive pronoun in English for males and a different one for females.  However, because we’re afraid we might offend half of the population, we refuse to use either singular pronoun, and instead choose the plural third person possessive pronoun, because there is only one of those and it isn’t gender specific (because, being plural, it must include both genders).  So, “a writer has their characters and their story.”

Which is just fucking WRONG.  Singular subject and plural pronoun.  Wrong.  Always wrong.  Forever wrong.

Now if we look at this not as avoiding insult, but rather as an attempt to respect and credit all humans, then it does make a bit of sense.  Still wrong, though.  Nice gesture maybe, but bad English.  And it just irritates the living hell out of me.

The “fix,” if you will, is to change English.  Since we actually have three third person possessive pronouns in English, and the third one is gender neutral, we could say “A writer has its characters.”  But this is more wronger, because “it” is never used to refer to people.  So that option is out.

We can agree that “their” is okay because it is gender neutral if not numerically correct, and this is generally the hand wave of acceptance that the PC/GN crowd uses to justify this grammatical departure.  And I can’t stand it.  Makes me want to kick holes in things.

Or, we can use both the masculine and feminine pronouns together, “A writer has his or her characters and his or her story.”  But that gets pretty annoying pretty fast.

Or, we can create an additional pronoun which, while singular, is gender neutral.  Such as… I don’t know… hox.  A writers has hox story.  We can make up words if we want.  We’re not stuck with the old ones.

Or, and this is the option I will choose, if the author is male, and the subject of the pronoun could be male or female, use male.  If the author is female, use a female pronoun.  So I could write,  “A writer has his characters,” and you (if you’re female) could write, “A writer has her story.”

Now, y’all (there’s another fun pronoun) can do what y’all want, but I happen to be a male.  I’m not going to apologize for that, nor am I going to attempt to minimize or diminish the other gender.  But from now on, when I need a singular third person pronoun to refer to a single person of unknown gender, I’m going to choose the male version.  After all, a writer should be able to choose their pronouns, right?

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Am I really an asshole?

Yes, of course I am.  Anybody who knows me wouldn’t argue with that.

The question arises because the story in this post is similar to the last one, in that I, The Next Great Novelist, got pissed off at someone over something and decided I no longer wanted to spend any virtual time in the presence of this person or his group of friends.

The best place to begin would be at the beginning.  The year was 1985 and I, not yet the Next Great Novelist (I was much further back in the line at the time) was a Corporal in the Marines, stationed in the garden spot of the Mojave Desert, the beautiful oasis of Twentynine Palms.  I found myself on the outs with the First Ex (and oh so thankful for that) and had a bit of money saved up, but no car.  I decided that since I’d soon be independent and once again on the prowl – I used to be even more handsome than I am now – that I ought to treat myself to an automobile worthy of my free and independent status.  I started shopping for a Corvette.

I found a Corvette that was in my price range, but the dealer turned me down for the loan.  That was how I found out that the First Ex had skipped three payments on the car I’d given her, which she had neglected to put in her name, thus trashing my credit rating while leaving hers intact.  Awesome.  So the Corvette was out of the question since I needed to find something for which I could pay cash.  I had a couple thousand saved up.

Then… she came into my life.  She was a 1971 Mustang Mach 1, dressed up to look like a Boss 351.  The Boss 351 Mustangs were quite rare, with less than 2,000 of them ever produced, and she was not a “real” Boss 351.  You couldn’t tell by looking at her though.  She had all the right decals and best of all, she had the 351 Cleveland Boss motor, which was not the same as the regular 351 Cleveland, and completely different from the 351 Windsor (except for bore and stroke).  She became mine.

As the years moved on, I spent some time on deployment and the Mustang aged.  I was overseas with the family – the Second Ex and the two spawn – and the poor Mustang sat first in Louisiana and then in Florida.  Without proper care, she wasn’t doing too well.  So, when a guy offered my father twice what I’d paid for her when she was in running condition – in CASH – I let her go.  I hope she went to a good home.  I still have my father’s Mopar, but that is another story.

Now flash forward some more years.  It was time to get the Second Ex a car, and there was this flashy red – retina searing red – 2000 Mustang on the lot.  We bought her.  Still got her.  She took me to work this morning.

Now go backwards in time again, to when Spawn One was waiting to be born.  It was December and I promised her if she exited the womb in December and became a tax deduction for that year, I would buy her a car when she turned 16.  I kept the promise and 16 years later, I bought her a Grabber Orange 2004 Mustang.

So that makes three Mustangs so far, and I think that qualifies me as a Mustang fan.  So when the fellow next to me in the office bought himself a cool ’05, we were Mustang fans together.  We noticed that here in the garden spot of the Sonora desert, there were lots and lots of Mustangs.  A great many of them are just the standard V6 base model Mustang – which is cool.  Those models are pretty affordable, they’re good solid cars, and they’re cool to drive.  Ford sold buttloads of them.  And probably because there are so many buttloads and they are a pretty cool looking car, lots of people like to customize them – which is also cool.

So, the two of us, now both Mustang fans, decided it would be fun to have a local Mustang club.  There’s already a Camaro club in town, which is irritating.  Then one day, as we were walking to lunch, we saw a Mustang cruising through the parking lots.  Every time it came upon another Mustang, the guy would jump out and put a flier on the windshield.  We grabbed one.  Aha!  A Mustang club!

We did the obligatory liking and joining on Facebook, and the Founder/Owner/Pres – it was a very informal organization and I’ll discuss that more soon – even friended me which meant I got to see all his personal posts as well as the Mustang club stuff.

That takes us closer to the whole point of this long winded (is it still wind if my fingers are talking instead of my mouth?) post.  The first thing I noticed was that this fellow had about as much command of the English language as a 6 year old.  Not because English wasn’t his first language, but because he chose to speak with a mixture of willful ignorance and textspeak.  Most of the words that were more than three letters were spelled wrong, and it seemed that while many of those mistakes were simply because he didn’t know any better, the others were because he didn’t care.  He eschewed the use of capital letters – because it takes two fingers working in unison to do that – as well as punctuation.  His Facebook posts were usually just one long conglomeration of sentence fragments.  It was pretty difficult at times to glean the message – a thing we writers call “communication.”

There are several reasonable excuses for poor spelling and grammar.  One might not be a native speaker of English, for example.  Or one might, in fact, actually *be* a 6 year old.  Or perhaps one might be mentally challenged to the point where this sort of writing is the best one can do.  None of these were the case, however.  This individual was a qualified aircraft mechanic and that is not a position one can attain if one falls into any of the above categories.  So in his case, it was definitely willful ignorance.  I will probably write on this topic later, but for now it is enough to know that people who wear their ignorance as if it were a badge of honor make me want to pulverize their skulls with a three pound hammer.

It was worse than that, however, because aside from the horrible spelling and grammar, he wrote with an affected “street” patois as if he was some black underprivileged inner-city gangster thug rap artist.  Now I realized that there are some white people who happen to grow up in underprivileged inner-city black neighborhoods, and thus speak English after the fashion of everyone else in their area.  In his case, however, this was clearly an affectation.  There is a portmanteau word for this sort of white person, which, having mentioned, I do not have to type.  It is normally a highly derogatory term and I certainly mean to use it in that fashion – except that I won’t use it here.

So, the unscheduled and unplanned “meetings” of the club were announced in the fashion and language described above.  The announcements usually consisted of a variation on the theme of “I don’t know.  What do you want to do?”  A decision was normally reached a few hours before and the meeting was usually a few Mustang owners hanging out in front of one of the local fast food joints.  Sometimes two or three of them would drive to some greasy spoon joint about 25 miles away (there are plenty of closer joints but they wanted to “cruise”).  I thought about attending at first, but I was pretty busy with other stuff (like writing my First Great Novel!) and as time went on I was less inspired to hang out with these guys.

Then one day, the fellow posted something really tasteless on his Facebook page.  He thought it was funny obviously, but I thought it was not only disgusting, but completely inappropriate.  No details are necessary and I won’t soil myself by describing his post.  I just quietly unfriended him, although I remained “in” the club at least nominally.  According to him, joining the group on Facebook made you a full fledged member of the club.

So then one day, using the club’s Facebook account, he posts something of a personal nature that had nothing to do with Mustangs, or the club, or even any of the members.  So, I asked – politely… I do know how to be polite – if his post had anything to do with Mustangs.  He allowed that it did not.  I then asked if he thought it might be more appropriate to post the information using his personal account.  That was when he became upset and accused me of “drama.”  He went on to explain that since he founded the group on Facebook, he could therefore post anything he wanted from that account.  He next indicated that since I had never attended any of the “meetings,” that I had no right to criticize him.  Then, a couple of his friends joined in, and indicated that because the picture of me in uniform on Facebook doesn’t have enough medals, that I must be unworthy.

I really wanted to start an online battle with this whole group of idiots.  I could have explained, for example, that the picture was taken long before any of them joined the Marines and that, because neither Iraq or Afghanistan had happened yet, most Marines only got one or two personal awards and a couple of service awards, and didn’t have a whole stack of “I was there” campaign ribbons (which you “earn” simply by virtue of arriving in the same country where the fighting is going on).  I could have explained that I now rate several more awards (because I did go “there”).  I could have ripped through them with logic and reason and spit them out like the crud on the edge of your lips when you wake up in the morning.

Of course, being the veteran of far too many online battles, I realized the absolute futility of a response.  I hated to disappear without a fight, but I knew it was a fight I could not win.  All I would have done would be to lower myself to their level and indulge in the modern online version of a third grade playground shouting match:  “AM NOT AM NOT AM NOT!”  “ARE TOO ARE TOO ARE TOO!”  Nothing I could possibly have said would have scored a single point in their eyes, so I just left the group and went my virtually merry way.

So with two recent events where I left a group in disgust, I have to wonder if maybe I’m just being kind of a dick about the whole thing.