Hunt & Associates P.C.

Politicizing Pronouns

No one should gratuitously insult anyone else.  However, if each of us arbitrarily decide to create new meanings for any word, contrary to an accepted meaning, or to create new words unknown to everyone around us, and government then punishes anyone who does not use our subjectively created devised vocabulary as we’ve chosen to define it, the language will ultimately descend into a subjectively chaotic babble.  The purpose of language is to communicate, not to placate or to comfort; words are tools of thought, expressing ideas capable of exchange because they are understood as having a common meaning.

New York City’s Commission on Human Rights has announced a policy to punish those who do not address a person by the pronoun which that person subjectively determines as appropriate for them.  Specifically, the NYCCHR says that it is now illegal discrimination or harassment to address someone by a pronoun other than by the pronoun that the addressee has chosen.  That choice, moreover, may come from an apparently unlimited universe of possibilities.

Facebook now identifies an admittedly incomplete list of at least 50 “custom gender identities” and corresponding pronouns and New York City’s Commission on Human Rights has published its incomplete list. Among the commonly used alternative pronouns among some self-identified transgendered people are “ze” and “hir”.

Now an Oregon School District has agreed to pay $60,000 in attorney fees and damages to a “transgender” teacher who, among other things, objected that calling her “her”(she was born biologically female), “he”, “it” or  by any pronoun other than “they”, amounted to illegal harassment and discrimination as Oregon Live reports.

If  the word “they” is now  a pronoun for the second person singular synonymous with “you”, as this Oregon teacher insists, then how will anyone know when the word “they” is even being used properly as the third person plural in reference even to a group including this teacher who insists that she alone is “they”?

While a single individual’s idiosyncratic preferred pronoun of address may itself seem quaintly whimsical, when government brings its coercive powers to compel the recognition of each arbitrarily designated meaning of words contrary to their understood definition, or, in the case of sounds such as “ze” and “hir”, recognize a new vocabulary with no generally accepted meaning because another person insists on such recognition, it can only damage the language.

Eugene Volokh has a more extensive discussion of the social and legal issues surrounding these efforts to essentially politicize pronouns.

© 5/24/2016 Lawrence B. Hunt of Hunt & Associates, P.C.  All rights reserved.

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