AP allowing the singular ‘they’

Traditionalists might not like the use of a plural pronoun to designate an individual. Within the context of malleable gender identity, however, advocates are praising the change.

Take a victory lap, those of you fighting for pronouns more elastic than those tied to the XY and XX chromosomes that distinguish males and females.

With the release of the revised The AP Stylebook on Wednesday, you now have the endorsement of the world’s largest news gathering organization in the use of they as a singular pronoun.

AP changed the rules for two reasons, lead editor Paula Froke said in a statement quoted by Poynter: the “recognition that the spoken language uses they as singular, and we also recognize the need for a pronoun for people who don’t identify as a he or a she.”

The decision was announced in March but is made official with the release of the book this week.

Froke added that it is usually possible to write around the use of they as a singular. For the first use, a traditionalist usually can stick to, uh, their guns by making the antecedent a plural (” traditionalists usually can…”), or by otherwise revising the sentence to avoid AP’s newly sanctioned irritant.

In the second instance, changing gender sensitivities make the plural pronoun a necessity, although an explanation might be required to avoid confusion, the AP offers.


Identifying as ‘neither’

“In stories about people who identify as neither male nor female or ask not to be referred to as he/she/him/her: Use the person’s name in place of a pronoun, or otherwise reword the sentence, whenever possible,” the AP adds. “If they/them/their use is essential, explain in the text that the person prefers a gender-neutral pronoun. Be sure that the phrasing does not imply more than one person…”

Clarity is a top priority, and gender-neutral use of a singular they is unfamiliar to many readers, the style mavens aver. For traditionalists, at least there’s this bone: “We do not use other gender-neutral pronouns such as xe or ze.”

(Don’t count on this bulwark to hold. I’m giving it two years.)

In other highlights, the AP offers guidance on terms such as fake news, esports, and cyberattack. The AP will host a Twitter chat on the topic Wednesday.

In a story by NBC News when the announcement was made in March, an activist who uses gender-neutral pronouns welcomed the decision. “It’s great to know that I won’t have to fight so hard to have my pronouns respected by journalists,” Jacob Tobia said.

Apparently unaware of the coming change in AP Style, the Daily Beast advocated May 26 for just such flexibility in the gender-neutral singular use of they.

“So why do editors still not trust readers to understand that they can refer to a single person?” a writer stated. “All it takes is one tiny disclaimer—a reminder, really—that some people identify as neither male nor female and accordingly prefer gender-neutral pronouns.”

On the other hand, a writer at the right-leaning PJ Media wasn’t pleased with the change. “Remember when boys were boys, girls were girls, and we really didn’t worry too much about the half percent of the population (or less) who didn’t fall into one of those roles?” the webzine asked. “Good times, weren’t they?”

Either way, it’s official on Wednesday.


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