singular they and respecting an individual’s pronoun preference

I have long attempted to be aware and sensitive in my writing. I have a copy on my shelf of Handbook of Nonsexist Writing. It was published in 1980, and I have a paperback edition published in 1981. Perhaps parts of it are dated, but it shows that consciousness and inclusiveness in writing is not a new topic. As the world has become aware that gender identity is not always a binary matter the subject has become more visible. No doubt the pandemic lockdown gave this a boost when we were all on Zoom and many of us put our preferred pronouns next to our name. That has become a convention on LinkedIn as well.

crumpled paper and notebookI discovered that writing in a conscious manner is not necessarily as easy as it might seem. I recently reviewed the book How Far the Light Reaches by Sabrina Imbler. Imbler identifies as nonbinary and uses the pronouns they/their/them. I attempted to respect that in my review. I thought I had done a pretty good job but searched on “she” and “her” just to be sure. Was I wrong! The review contained female pronouns throughout that I had to correct. I even wrote, “Imbler identifies as nonbinary and I use her pronouns of choice.” (And yes, I fixed that as well before hitting the Publish button).

Some people still get their knickers in a knot about singular they, but for many of us that ship has sailed. The seventeenth edition of The Chicago Manual of Style states, “When referring specifically to a person who does not identify with a gender-specific pronoun, however, they and its forms are often preferred.” and “In general, a person’s stated preference for a specific pronoun should be respected.” But Chicago hedges its bets. Section 5 is the “Style and Usage” section written by Bryan A. Garner. Garner writes, “For now, unless you are given guidelines to the contrary, be wary of using these forms in a singular sense.” Garner does, to his credit, repeat the assertion that a person’s preference is to be honored.

In the fifth edition of his Modern English Usage, published just last November, Garner provides a detailed history and analysis of the singular they. He concludes with some rather circumspect advice:

quoteHow future generations will deal with disambiguating they as either singular or plural in Standard Written English remains to be seen. Only time will tell. In the meantime, careful writers using the singular they must take care to avoid ambiguities, miscues, and awkwardness.

Of course, I’m not making any revelations in saying that singular they is nothing new. Grammarians and linguists have been making this point for a very long time. An article on the Oxford English Dictionary web site states that the usage goes back to at least 1375. I have seen it mentioned many times that Shakespeare used singular they and that he used it more than once. For example, an essay on the old Language Log web site at the University of Pennsylvania cites two examples, including this one:

There’s not a man I meet but doth salute me
As if I were their well-acquainted friend

There are plenty of other examples throughout literature, and much ink has been spilled (or many electrons rearranged) on the subject, so I won’t go on beating a horse that should be dead.

In a world filled with people like Ron DeSantis, where we are fighting battles that should have long ago been won, the least we can do is honor the wishes of our nonbinary brothers and sisters siblings.

And if I slip up kindly let me know.

everything new is old again

Newsblur screen shotI like having one place to go to read all of the new posts for the blogs I follow along with daily updates from pages such as NPR Arts & Life. This was made easy a number of years ago with the advent of RSS, Really Simple Syndication. All you needed was a web site or app that supported the protocol. For a long time a lot of us used Google Reader, which was well suited for the task. But Google can be like a child with a short attention span who gets bored easily, and it dropped Google Reader a while back, sending lots of people scrambling. I have since been using a service called NewsBlur, which I can access from my web browser or by using their iOS app on my iPhone and iPad. It works well.

The problem is that RSS support has become spotty. Bosco Peters, an Anglican priest in New Zealand, has a wonderful blog called Liturgy. When Bosco redid his web site the RSS feed was lost, and his attempts to fix it were unsuccessful. My friend Tahoe Mom resurrected her blog at a new site and it has no RSS feed. Frustrating.

I suppose the predominance of social media has rendered RSS nearly obsolete. That’s unfortunate, because in these days and times I try to stay away from social media except for Instagram, and I especially work at keeping off Facebook except for my Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd communication tasks.

To invert the words of that catchy Peter Allen song: Everything new is old again.

some things are best not written down

“Some things are best not written down.” That’s how I started my speech at Toastmasters two weeks ago. And that is why I gave a speech instead of writing a blog about that particular topic. I pointed out that what you put out there on the internet is there forever—even if you think that you’ve deleted it.

The subject in question had to do with the behavior of a family member that was, well, inexplicable, and the repercussions that resulted from that behavior. It made for a good speech; I received the best speaker ribbon and people were visibly moved. But I made the speech and now it is lost to the ether. It was not recorded in any way.

Which makes me think of a pledge I made here some years ago. I was listening to a series from The Great Courses about writing nonfiction and I had read about works published as nonfiction that were in fact mostly fabricated. (Conversely, some novels are actually more memoir than fiction.)

My pledge was that everything I tell you is the truth. I will, not, however, tell you everything.

That pledge still stands.

Best Speaker ribbon

blog break

It’s time for a short blog hiatus. I am having surgery on Wednesday for an object on my intestinal tract that should not be there and needs to be removed. I expect to be back blogging in a couple of weeks, the Good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise, along with your prayers and good thoughts, of course.

laptopThat may well be all you care to know, and that makes perfect sense. If you choose to keep reading, however, I can fill you in with a little more background, but I will endeavor to avoid the slippery slope of TMI.

It’s been quite a journey, going back nearly a year. After my annual physical last year my primary care physician ordered a blood cell count, presumably because I told the medical student who saw me before he came into the exam room that I had lost weight for no apparent reason. My white count came back high, which resulted in an ultrasound and a referral to urology as the issue appeared to be kidney-related. A CT scan followed, with the urologist saying, “You don’t need me” and referring me to gastroenterology. Those folks told me that I had a GIST, a gastrointestinal stromal tumor. The medical team ordered two different endoscopic procedures to confirm that it was only that. The gastrointestinal surgeon partnered with the oncologist (head of oncology at Kaiser Riverside, by the way!) who prescribed a medication to shrink the GIST. No effect, the second CT scan revealed. Bad news: larger rather than smaller is harder to remove. Good news: the medication not shrinking it means it’s probably not cancerous.

So here we are. Think of me (as the song from Phantom of the Opera says), and my intent is to be back with you soon. I have cleared out my queue of backlogged blog entries and will be starting fresh when I return. Once restarted, this blog may take a slightly different approach or focus but I do plan to keep blogging. Writing is central to who I am, and I have much to write about.

Stay tuned.

my most popular blog entry

It has been a full year since Marcela Valladolid left The Kitchen on Food Network. I initially wrote here about her departure, saying that she would be missed. When she wrote in some detail in her blog about exiting the show and stated that she regretted not saying goodbye to her fans I wrote “why Marcela didn’t say goodbye.”

The Kitchen logoThis has been far and away my most popular blog entry. It has received over 31,000 views. That is an order of magnitude (or two or three or four) more than any of my other blog posts have received. Seems that it comes up for people doing a Google or Bing search about Marcela leaving the show.

For all those views I haven’t gotten a lot of comments. What surprises me about the comments I do get is how many people are snide and bitter about Marcela and her presence on the program. Those don’t get published. I don’t go for nastiness on my blog.

It’s nice to be read, but I wish some of my other blog entries received more attention.

an apology

I have to apologize. The blogger in the cartoon below? That’s me. I recognized myself immediately when I first saw the cartoon. That hurt. But I suppose it’s a good thing that I did recognize me.

I’m hoping that I can say that was me. I want to believe that I’m not that way anymore. I was that way, though. Just ask my friend Lynn, with whom I would meet for coffee before Terry and I moved south. Lynn, I apologize. That’s not a good way to treat a friend.

This cartoon comes, by the way, from the TED talk 10 Ways to Have a Better Conversation given by public radio host Celeste Headlee. I highly recommend it. It has had more than nine million views, and there’s a reason for that.

And in my case I trust that reading my blog is not necessary for friends to learn about what is happening in my life.

cartoon: Read My Blog

much ado about nothing

I spent the greater part of a recent morning getting my knickers in a knot over nothing.

I had just started a new course from The Great Courses entitled English Grammar Boot Camp. The instructor displayed a sentence which the editors of the American Heritage Dictionary sent to their usage panel to get panel member views as to whether the construction was acceptable. The sentence read:

Aptitude is essential; but equally as important is the desire to learn.

The question revolved around the use of “equally as important” in the sentence, the idea being that it might be better to streamline the sentence by writing “equally important.” However, I fixated on the words after the semicolon, thinking that they did not constitute an independent clause. I composed a rant for the blog on my business web site, describing how that bothered me, and citing the Chicago Manual of Style chapter and verse. Chicago takes the position that the phrase to the right of a semicolon must be an independent clause.

But wait. There’s a problem here. “equally as important is the desire to learn” is an independent clause. It is a sort of backwards Yoda English (“Much to learn you still have.”) that does not stand well on its own, but it is an independent clause nonetheless. Remove the “as.” “Equally important is the desire to learn.”

Subject the desire to learn
Verb is
Predicate equally important

Now there is a comparative (“equally important”) that does not have a referent, which is not good syntax, but grammatically this is an independent clause.

I wasted a morning on a rant I was wrong about.

In the words of Miss Emily Latella, “Oh, that’s very different. Never mind.”



what readers are looking for

I enjoy looking at the statistics on my blog. Not that I have a lot of readers, but I enjoy doing so nonetheless. I seem to have two kinds of readers. The first type is made up of my regular readers. They read my current posts, either on my home page or by going to that specific entry. If you are reading this you probably fall into this category. Please know that I’m humbled and delighted that you read my blog and that I don’t take you for granted.

The second type of reader gets to my blog via Google or another search engine. What is interesting here is that there are a few recurring search results that keep popping up. My remembrance of jazz radio announcer Bob Parlocha is one of those, as is my blog entry that more generally appreciates the announcers at late great jazz station KJAZ. Another entry that comes up regurlarly is my discussion of Eucharistic Prayer C1 in the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer. I went back and looked at that entry and it’s not terribly good. It’s one of those entries that I simply seem to have dashed off. I owe that prayer more than that, and I’ll take care of that tomorrow.

Another blog entry that comes up with some regularity is my discussion of “imaginary” as a noun. This relates to a Great Courses series I listened to on Heroes and Legends. As the lecturer states, “the word ‘imaginary’ is used as a noun to mean a collective picture of an era derived from books, films, television, and so on.” The primary example he gives is the American wild west. I suspect there’s not a lot online about that so my blog comes up.

It’s interesting to see which searches find my blog.

1You can find Eucharistic Prayer C in the The (Online) Book of Common Prayer. Navigate: The Holy Eucharist > The Holy Eucharist: Rite II > Eucharistic Prayer C.

another year of blogging

So, here it is, the first Monday of the new year 2016 and I begin another week and another year of blogging. I’m not exactly sure how long I have been writing my blog. That is lost in the mists of time, as I am now on my third blogging platform. But I would have to say that my blog must go back to 2002 or 2003.

There was a time when I was not diligent about updating my blog, but for the last blogheaderseveral years I have made a point of publishing five entries a week. Interestingly, I originally conceived of my blog as a forum to reflect on religion and spirituality, and my blog’s title was “Thoughts on Spirituality, Liturgy, & Religion.” I found that eventually, though, I was writing on a much wider range of topics, and dropped that in favor of simply “Csquared Thoughts.” More recently, I changed the title to “My Point Being,” which I rather like. I now even have a domain name to match.

One of the nice things about being on the WordPress platform is that other WordPress bloggers can Like my posts. What I find is that when I write about food, the food bloggers like my posts. When I write about books, the book bloggers like my posts. When I write about language, the language bloggers like my posts. That’s really nice, and it’s flattering. But then they follow my blog, and I get concerned that I will disappoint them, as I do write about those topics, but not every day. I may go several weeks without blogging on one of those subjects.

I blog about what is on my mind. I can only write about what is of interest to me. I can’t please everyone, so I have to please myself.

In any case, here’s to another year of blogging. I hope you’ll come along with me, and with any luck some of what pleases me will please you too.

New York Times Manual of Style and Usage

I have been trying to be more diligent about giving myself ready access to resources for grammar, usage, and style. I recently bookmarked several, most of which I mentioned in my blog entry about spaces after periods. Last week I added to my reference library. I downloaded the Kindle version of the newly updated New York Times Manual of Style and Usage.

I was disappointed to see that “website” is now listed as the preferred term for a presence on the World Wide Web, and while that phrase is capitalized as I have it here, “web” by itself is lowercase. Sigh. I have long held out for “Web site,” but I guess that battle is lost. On the positive side, Internet is still capitalized.

I appreciate that the guide wants to err on the side of clarity. For example: “web address is preferred in most references to a URL…” Likewise the manual tells us: “semimonthly means twice a month. Every two months is bimonthly. To minimize confusion, avoid the prefix forms whenever possible and use twice a month or every two months.” Sound advice.

Then there is this: “saga. It is a long story of adventure or heroism, not just any story.” If I have not violated that rule here in this blog in references to my own life, I very easily could have done so.

Finally, I absolutely love this one: “wake-up call, except in an instruction to a hotel front desk, is a cliché.” Thank you for that!

This is a great resource. I’m going to get my money’s worth out of this purchase.