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December 15, 2010

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Last week my husband laughed as I suggested that we build a snowperson. "A snowperson? I like how you made that gender neutral." I had done it unintentionally, but then I got to liking it :)

I guess I like politically correct speech.

I like gender-inclusive speech too, as long as it isn't pushed to the ridiculous, e.g.: "Ladies and Gentlepersons!". It makes good sense and recognizes the important female segment of our society. Insofar as gender-inclusiveness is embraced by political correctness, that can be a positive aspect of the PC approach, which for me is problematic mainly when it is used as an explicit or unconscious authority over biblical principles. By the way, when I translated Leviticus for the new Common English Bible translation, one of the directions from the editorial board was to try to be gender-inclusive. This can be a challenge when translating from Hebrew, in which masculine is the default grammatical gender. But it is often doable. However, I think the NRSV goes too far (at least in Lev) by translating "he" (a single offerer) as "they" to be gender-inclusive, which makes it a plural, as though more than one person is offering a sacrifice. We need a singular gender-neutral pronoun, but there doesn't seem to be one in English. Maybe we should invent one. Any ideas? (S)he works pretty well, but what about her/him and hers/his? How can we combine these?

A singular gender-netural pronoun would be pretty handy, but I'm not sure if we'll ever get one. I'm actually in favor of changing one of the long-standing rules of the English language that "they" and "their" are exclusively plural. "Any person with a ticket can redeem their prize online" is technically incorrect for mashing up a singular subject and a plural possessive pronoun, but such a construction would prove very useful, especially in a world where the masculine pronoun no longer suffices to represent individuals of both genders. In fact, we're seeing just such language online where the Internet cannot determine your gender and doesn't want to sound offensive or old-fashioned. So Facebook recently told me that "Jerilyn Smith changed their profile picture." I'm keeping my fingers crossed that in the next 25 years such language will be acceptable and standard. Until then, I and my snowperson will be contemplating the implications of gendered pronouns...

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Memory, Meaning & Faith is a blog covering Christian history in light of contemporary issues.

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