Mighty Red Pen

July 10, 2007

The Dutchess strikes again

Filed under: Grammar goddess — mighty red pen @ 8:02 pm

MRP was trying to avoid writing about Fergie yet again, but she does always seem to have something to contribute, doesn’t she?

Titi Isa writes regarding Fergie’s song, “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “I think you should have a  ‘Fergie’ thread all about her English flubups. I wrinkle my nose every time she says ‘like a child needs their blanket.'”

Mister MRP sighed in an exasperated way when I mentioned this to him. He says, “I have a lot of students who use this construction because they were taught to do this. I think it’s what they are taught to do to avoid the he/she problem.”

So, like Titi Isa, MRP and Mister MRP were united in wrinkling their noses at this grammatical construction. But is it wrong?

Well, it’s not necessarily correct, but it’s not a simple matter of contemporary common usage, either. As The American Heritage Book of English Usage says, “The alternative to the masculine generic with the longest and most distinguished history in English is the third-person plural pronoun. Recognized writers have used they, them, themselves, and their to refer to singular nouns such as one, a person, an individual, and each since the 1300s.”

American Heritage pointed out, however, “When people shy away from using they to refer to a singular antecedent, it is usually out of respect for the traditional grammatical rule concerning pronoun agreement.”

In which case, Fergie would have to sing, “I’m going to miss you like a child misses his or her blanket,” which admittedly, is an imperfect solution. Could the answer lie in gender-neutral pronouns?

In any case, MRP found this interesting article, which pointed out the many ways in which Jane Austen herself employed the singular their.

Well, if Jane Austen does it, it must be okay, right?

ps: Speaking of Fergie, MRP is astonished by the number of people who get to this blog by googling “london bridge.” Naughty.



  1. C’mon MRP isn’t it enough that Fergie actually sings that song well, you want her to use proper grammar too?
    My favorite lyric after the child blanket line is “We’ll play jacks and uno cards” it’s simply poetic.

    Comment by Molie — July 11, 2007 @ 5:53 pm | Reply

  2. Uno cards? Is that what she’s saying?!

    Comment by mightyredpen — July 11, 2007 @ 6:03 pm | Reply

  3. lol, yup. reverse! yup. lol.

    Comment by Molie — July 11, 2007 @ 9:16 pm | Reply

  4. I just want her to take out the E she puts in the word tasty.

    Comment by Elisabeth — July 20, 2007 @ 12:03 pm | Reply

  5. I have to pace myself on my Fergie commentary because she’s just full of possibilities. That one you mention really grated on my nerves, too!

    Comment by mightyredpen — July 20, 2007 @ 12:34 pm | Reply

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