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Thoughts Online Magazine
Collected Articles on Culture & Politics
Is "They" and "Their" Plural? 
20th-Nov-2009 06:50 am
Inspiration
Well, sometimes. As with words like "everybody" it depends on context, the writer's intention, and whether an appropriate singular is available.

It's been that way in English for a while: see Jane Austen, for example, or William Shakespeare. As noted on the page quoting Shakespeare, it's been common usage in English since the 14th century.

So can we accept this? Not without a lot of debate and heavy sighing.
Comments 
21st-Nov-2009 10:20 pm (UTC)
This'll teach people the consequences of persisting with a language with indeterminately-gendered nouns and loose verb conjugation! The rest of North America should switch to French immediately; other romance languages will be given due consideration. ^_^
22nd-Nov-2009 01:28 am (UTC)
I'm smiling because I grew up in San Diego, and Spanish was as common as English on the playground (you had to understand both, but almost everyone spoke the language they understood best). Oddly enough, I end up preferring English when I'm trying to describe the result of many concurrent processes -- the ability to make nouns into modifiers of nouns is useful, if hard to translate. At the same time, there's a lot that I paraphrase when translating from Spanish, including some idioms that always make me smile (salta de mi mano -- I dropped it (lit. it leapt from my hand); ojala que -- (lit. Would to Allah that) I hope that).
23rd-Nov-2009 02:10 am (UTC)
You'd probably really enjoy Québecois French then. Since the province was so heavily and devoutly Roman Catholic for a good four-centuries, it just happens as a consequence that most of the worst curses involve swearing oaths by the sacraments, and various articles thereof. Thus, whenever somebody on a work-site smashes his thumb with a hammer, you're likely to hear something like "Ostie de ostie de Christ en colis en tabernacle!", for which the polite translation would be something like "I swear by the host of Christ in the chalice, [itself] in the tabernacle!"

In fact, swearing by the host has been so common that the noun has gradually been transformed into a verb, as well as an adjective. So, it's now entirely possible here to issue a stream of invectives that consists of nothing more than various conjugations and declensions of "ostie" (host). I.e, "Je m'ostie de l'ostie ostie, ostie d'ostie ostié."

The result is pretty much untranslatable. :-)
23rd-Nov-2009 02:22 am (UTC)
Latin was a verb-dominated language, with similar results translated into English: "The operator operates on the operand operatively."
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