December 05, 2007

They doesn't give a damn

Never mind a full implementation of subject-verb agreement. For the Facebook case Arnold Zwicky just noted, all we need is a replacement of "is" by "are" when no sex specification is available. For heaven's sake, even I, who cannot program in anything fancier than the Unix C shell language, can program that:

set predicate = "now looking for friendship, a relationship and networking."
if ( $sex == male ) then
  echo "He is $predicate."
else if ( $sex == female ) then
  echo "She is $predicate."
  echo "They are $predicate."

It's still a bit ugly to use singular they with a proper name antecedent, but don't tell me the programmers couldn't have set things up to do what the above piece of code does. This is not about verb agreement complexities; this is about not giving a damn.

Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum at December 5, 2007 11:42 AM