November 28, 2006

Yet another epicene pronoun: Hu are we kidding?

On his excellent "Web of Language" site, Dennis Baron writes of the latest effort to introduce a non-gender-specific (or "epicene") singular third-person pronoun into English. D.N. DeLuna, a part-time writing teacher at Johns Hopkins University, has proposed using "hu" as a concise replacement for "he or she." As she told the Chronicle of Higher Education, DeLuna intends "hu" to be pronounced as "huh" — "except with not as much aspiration." (Huh?)  In addition to the Chronicle, DeLuna has managed to get press attention from the Los Angeles Times and the Hartford Courant. But despite the flurry of interest, Baron convincingly argues that we shouldn't count on "hu" being any more successful than the dozens and dozens of other epicene pronouns that have been proposed over the past century and a half.

And besides, as has been noted in these precincts countless times (e.g., here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here), English speakers already have a perfectly serviceable word for the job: "they." We even have it on divine authority.

Posted by Benjamin Zimmer at November 28, 2006 05:29 PM