My Pronouns Are…
Parts of Speech
There are eight parts of speech, one being pronouns. Pronouns serve a purpose. They shorten communication by removing redundancy. “Please give Rhoda Rhoda’s order,” becomes “Please give Rhoda her order,” for example. And thanks to the second person plural “you,” I can walk into a room and request twenty-five people follow me without calling them all by name. “Would you come this way, please?” See how these reduce silliness and get us into motion much more efficiently?
Now, pronouns can lead to confusion. “Jenni and Sue met for lunch, and Sue left her gift behind at the restaurant.” Whose gift was left? One may infer it was Sue’s gift. But she could have left Jenni’s gift. Context will often sort out these ambiguities.
Third person pronouns are useful because they provide a vehicle to refer back to subjects of a conversation, generally when the subject person is not present.* In practical terms, if you and I are talking about someone not present that person tends to be he or she, and may prefer they or zie. When I know a person’s preference, using the correct pronoun is no issue. And, if I’m talking about someone who isn’t present, it’s because there’s something relevant and worth discussing.
Pronouns in Dialog
Ah. Here is where consideration is overrun by presumption.
Increasingly, email signature blocks, blog signoffs, and LinkedIn profiles provide pronouns for complete strangers few readers will meet. Look, if I don’t know you, I won’t be talking about you. And you don’t know me, so you’re probably not talking about me much. That’s really okay. You don’t need my pronouns until you’ve decided I’m worth a third-person singular mention. By then, we’re having a chat. And one of us may say, “I’d love to connect you with my advisor/friend/private chef. What pronouns do you prefer?” Or the blunt, “What are your pronouns?”
Here is where considerate collides with presumption.
If you lead your podcast with pronouns and then proceed to interrupt your cohost mother for the next forty-five minutes, I’m not talking about you (unless it’s as “the inconsiderate one”). If you send an invite to your webinar, I’ll ask “you,” not “him” for more…