Over at Mudede’s exegesis on kissing, carnivorous chicken complains:
Uh, the bad kisser reveals "his" or "her" soul, not "their" soul. Jessus Christ on a crutch, Charles, this error is throughout the essay. Have you not heard of pronoun agreement?Below the jump, the copy department explains itself and provides some alternate edits of Mudede’s prose. You decide.
The Stranger's style guide is based on The Chicago Manual of Style, which has this to say about the gender-neutral singular pronoun dilemma:
5.222 Gender bias. Consider the issues of gender-neutral language. On the one hand, it is unacceptable to a great many reasonable readers to use the generic masculine pronoun (he in reference to no one in particular). On the other hand, it is unacceptable to a great many readers (often different readers) either to resort to nontraditional gimmicks to avoid the generic masculine (by using he/she or s/he, for example) or to use they as a kind of singular pronoun. Either way, credibility is lost with some readers.Chicago suggests a number of alternatives (see here), but neither forbids nor encourages use of they as a singular pronoun. So the copy team at The Stranger usually recasts a sentence (often by making the subject plural) or allows the sparing use of they.
Let's look at a couple of sentences in Mudede's article.
The monkey with the finger in its eye makes no sudden moves.The monkeys were easy, since a monkey is an it (rarely are animals addressed with gendered pronouns). But pesky people have genders. So this
When a highly social animal opens their lips during a kiss, they are signaling a feeling of trust that is within them. And if the other welcomes this opening with an opening of their own—this signals their trust for your trust.could have been styled thusly:
When highly social animals open their lips during a kiss, they are signaling a feeling of trust that is within them. And if the others welcome this opening with openings of their own—this signals their trust for your trust.Nope, sounds like an orgy. The singularity is necessary for the reader to imagine only one kiss, the ideal kiss.
What about that concluding graf? What if it read like this?
A bad kisser is either (1) a person who actually eats you or (2) a person who does it all wrong. The second type of bad kisser puts too much of his or her teeth into the moment, or his or her tongue behaves like a panicked lizard, or his or her mouth can never strike that wonderful balance between rough and soothing. A bad kisser often means the deal is over. We disengage because we see him or her as socially inferior—he or she removes the magic from the risk. The bad kisser reveals his or her soul: He or she is a bad person. A good kisser is always a good person. A kiss that lasts for five minutes burns 10 calories.That made me dizzy. Perhaps like this?
Bad kissers are either (1) people who actually eat you or (2) people who do it all wrong. The second type of bad kissers put too much of their teeth into the moment, or their tongues behave like panicked lizards, or their mouths can never strike that wonderful balance between rough and soothing. Bad kissers often mean the deal is over. We disengage because we see them as socially inferior—they remove the magic from the risk. Bad kissers reveal their souls: They are bad people. Good kissers are always good people. A kiss that lasts for five minutes burns 10 calories.Nope. The image of hordes of bad kissers with lizard tongues leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
Indeed, the way we chose to cast these words is the only way to contain both the meaning and the beauty of the text. Singularity is part of the pleasure of theoretical writing, Mudede’s in particular. Change they to he/she, and the brain jerks around like a roller coaster; change the subjects to plurals, and this philosophy becomes sociology.