Post from Greta Christina: “Trans People, Pronouns, and Choosing Between Social Justice and the Chicago Manual of Style”
[Edits for clarity, thanks Kasey!]
In the linked post, Greta tears apart a long grammar-stickler-rant on the pronoun “they” that basically amounts to: ‘”We can’t use “they” as a singular gender neutral pronoun because it will break the language, waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!”
I’m 100% in agreement with Greta that that is fucking horseshit.
We need a gender neutral 3rd person singular pronoun. “They” works. So do a number of other options, of course, and I’m glad to use those for a specific person if asked to do so. In terms of being able to refer to a hypothetical singular person, gender unknown, in my writing, however, it is useful to have a word that everyone already agrees is a word to replace either the clunky “he or she” or the totally-not-okay default-to-“he” (because men are clearly Default Humans, AMIRIGHT?). “They” fits that bill. Chicago Manual of Style can go fuck itself.
On a related note–I have to teach SAT/ACT grammar, and currently I have to teach my students that “they” can ONLY be plural. I handle this by explaining to them that this is currently a matter of debate and that they may see “they” used as a singular pronoun elsewhere, but for the purposes of the test they should consider it plural.