The Dirty Word schools us on gendered language and explains why using "they" is totally okay
Language is important; it’s how we communicate, it’s how we express ourselves, and it’s part of how we come to terms with defining our identity. People have deep feelings about language, especially as the word “they” continues to become a singular third-person pronoun. While it gives plenty of gender non-conforming and non-binary people the ability to define how they move through this world, there are also people who are opposed to it, claiming that a singular “they” is a grammatical abomination. But is it really?
In the video, Amanda Montell breaks down people’s assumptions about grammar and gender, answering questions such as: Why do people care so much about grammar? Why do gendered pronouns exist in the first place?
In this episode of The Dirty Word, Amanda gives us a linguistics history lesson, touching upon how, for plenty of other languages, words are gendered in what’s called “grammatical gender.” This can be seen in languages like Spanish and French, in which a word itself has a “gender” often unrelated to societal ideals of what is masculine or feminine. Our system uses “natural gender,” which associates the perceived gender of the person with the word, i.e. actor/actress. And while grammatical gender may sound exotic, Amanda points out that 1,000 years ago, the English language used it too.
Amanda notes that gendered pronouns didn’t disappear with the rest of English’s grammatical gender, which is pretty unique.
That’s where the whole argument with gendered pronouns really begins. Thankfully, Amanda gives us a concise explanation about why this is and then leaves us with a crucial observation.
Thankfully, next time we encounter someone who is moving against history, we can just point them to this video.