Is "s/he" commonly used?

JohnDR

Senior Member
Mandarin
Is the world "s/he" commonly used? In what context?

Would you use s/he in a formal context, say, a thesis?

Thank you!
 
  • Franzi

    Senior Member
    (San Francisco) English
    I would not use it in a thesis. I would use it in a survey or an e-mail from a professor to students (where the professor is trying not to sound sexist).

    "S/he" is used when the writer wants to avoid using "singular they" (not formally correct), "he" as the default (sexist), or "he or she" (too long and awkward if you have to use it many times). In an essay or thesis, I would use "he or she" or rephrase the sentence so that I could use gender neutral terms like "the subject".
     

    Franzi

    Senior Member
    (San Francisco) English
    BODYholic said:
    Is it true that in all official document, the subject 'He' alone also includes 'She' and possibly 'It'?

    *just curious*
    Traditionally, yes. However, many people consider this usage sexist now.

    Edited to add: The following two Wikipedia articles have more information on these types of issues:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Singular_they
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gender-neutral_language_in_English
    With respect, I think that's slightly sweeping. There is no general rule of English language interpretation that, in "official" documents, pronouns are gender-inclusive.

    In some legal jurisdictions, there are laws dealing with the interpretation of statutes and legal documents, which provide for standard interpretations such as gender-inclusive meanings. However, in other jurisdictions there are no such laws.

    Some lawyers will include in contracts such stipulations as "The male includes the female and vice versa", but that then just becomes an agreement about the interpretation between the parties.
     

    Franzi

    Senior Member
    (San Francisco) English
    With respect, I think that's slightly sweeping. There is no general rule of English language interpretation that, in "official" documents, pronouns are gender-inclusive.
    That's a good point. I was thinking of "official documents" in terms of formal written English produced by--for example--a university administration, rather than legal documents per se.

    What I should have said is that it used to be acceptable to use "he" to mean "he (or she as applicable)". Many people find this usage unacceptable now, especially in contexts where language isn't as carefully defined as it is in legal documents. (A university code of conduct is likely to have something about "the students" or "he or she" rather than just using "he", at least around here.)
     
    Doesn't it all just show that English needs a common pronoun for the third person singular? I have sometimes taken to using "they" for the singular, despite its technical inaccuracy.

    When I said that to a friend once, he suggested taking the s from she and the h from he and just adding them to it. .........

    ........... no, that really wouldn't do at all.
     

    BODYholic

    Senior Member
    Chinese Cantonese
    Doesn't it all just show that English needs a common pronoun for the third person singular? I have sometimes taken to using "they" for the singular, despite its technical inaccuracy.

    When I said that to a friend once, he suggested taking the s from she and the h from he and just adding them to it. .........

    ........... no, that really wouldn't do at all.
    That's ingenious, Sir. :)
     

    Franzi

    Senior Member
    (San Francisco) English
    Doesn't it all just show that English needs a common pronoun for the third person singular?
    Now there's a subject with infinite off-topic potential!

    My view is that if we've stuck with singular they this long, we can keep right on using it. Maybe it will eventually become formally correct.
     
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