A Lexical Excursion

In school, English was always one of my best subjects. (A tip of the hat to two of my teachers: Tom Clayton at Los Angeles Valley College, and Dr. Jane Walpole at Piedmont Virginia Community College.) I’ve had a longstanding interest in the English language, so it’s only natural that I take up some lexical matters here. (If you share my interest, you’ll enjoy the Lexicon Valley podcasts. I also like onelook.com, where you can look up a word in many dictionaries.) This is a perhaps a logical place to mention that it’s fine with me if you use what I’ve written, even beyond the bounds of fair use, provided you link to this website or credit ahimsatoday.com.

One language note about how I write: Understandably, many people object to using male pronouns universally to deal with the unfortunate lack of gender-neutral pronouns in English. It’s become increasingly common over the years, I’ve noticed, and now quite acceptable in informal spoken English, and increasingly even in informal written English, to use the non-gender-specific plural pronouns they and their for the singular pronouns he/she and his/her to avoid assigning gender or using the awkward “his or her”: Every student must bring their notebook. I’m of the old school, and not quite comfortable with pluralizing singulars, so I avoid this construction. Where gender is unknown or irrelevant, I’m inclined to use either gender randomly—but not switching in the same sentence, and probably not even in the same paragraph. (When I was in her classes many years ago, Dr. Walpole favored the masculine pronouns as the solution to the gender-neutral dilemma, noting that men had to share theirs because they were used when the gender wasn’t specified, but women were able to reserve the feminine pronouns for their exclusive use.) I can usually structure my sentences to avoid the whole problem: All students must bring their notebooks.

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