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.