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Monday, February 8, 2010

The Persnickety Penman: Difficult Definitions

               Today I'm going to delve into the act of writing.  On future Mondays I may return to the Blog Boggled theme because there are many more things to explore on the topic of blogging.  However, since the original focus of my Monday was to be on the act and the art of writing, I have decided to start a new series which I have alliteratively titled The Persnickety Penman.  Those of you familiar with my writing may have noticed that I have this thing for alliteration--I really like it.   I guess it's the poet in me.  If you are bothered by beginnings being with the same sound then I'm sorry. 

         In regard to the "Persnickety Penman" title, I just wanted to come up with something catchy and, of course, alliterative.  Who uses the word "persnickety" anyway?  In my view, it is a rather archaic word hailing from the Victorian Era and rather silly sounding to some of us these days--but this coming from a blogger who googles and uses widgets.  Persnickety is a rather fun word which means fastidious and overly fussy when it comes to details.  This is rather ironic since I sometimes tend to totally disregard rules of grammar and punctuation.  Who says we can't experiment as long as most people know what we are saying?

        Then there is the term "Penman".  How inappropriate is that nowadays?  Shouldn't it be something more like "keyboardman"?  Sure, I know that some writers still like to scrawl out their works in longhand, and it does seem rather romantic to idyllicly sit on a park bench or under a tree in the woods writing one's words. But do you honestly plan on submitting your work in that form? 

       And then there's the feminist issue of words ending in "man".   We can't say "penperson"--though I like the alliteration---because it ends with the male noun "son".  How about "penone"?  That obviously doesn't work because spellcheck will think you're talking about a flower, just looking at the word would make you want to pronounce it "pee-none", and if you did pronounce it "pen-one" then people might think you are mispronouncing a member of the bird family that lives in Anarctica.  So maybe penentity?  That might deserve a prison sentence.  Which makes me wonder why more convicts aren't writers?

         So once again, here in a blog post I've changed horses in the middle of the stream, which by the way is a rather peculiar idiom that sounds more archaic than persnickety.  But I did start out to write about something totally different than where this blog entry is heading.  I get that way sometimes--I just start writing off the top of my head and wander from one thing to the next.  I suppose you could say that I change horses in the middle of the stream of consciousness.  

         Hopefully next Monday I'll go back to the topic I started to write about-- topicality in one's writing --and after looking at the beginning of this sentence I think I'll just move on to one closing topic.

         One thing that always makes me stop to think when I write is proper usage of gender neutral third person pronouns.  As I was growing up--when men were men and women were housewives (just a joke--don't get mad at me dear ladies)--I was taught that the proper gender neutral third person pronoun was he or him.  Then as I got into college in the 1970's we were encouraged to use the ridiculously awkard he or she and him or her.  This pronoun choice sounds silly and can get annoyingly redundant.  A study at Johns Hopkins University suggested that the term yo was becoming a popular third person gender neutral pronoun.  Yo's not gonna sell me on that one.  All I want to know is who is that linguist and what was yo thinking?

         My personal preference is the disputed usage of the pronouns they or them.  To me they are the only pronouns that sound natural and are comfortable to use in third person singular gender neutral.  Why do we need to make up a word when we've already got one that is commonly used?  I think most of us use they or them when referring to a general third person in our everyday speech.  Me?  I like to write like I speak and I'm going to continue using they and them until the pronoun police come an put me in the penentity.

         What about you?  Which third person pronoun do you prefer when gender is generalized?  Does alliteration in prose bother you?  Just tossing it out there so you can juggle it all in your mind a while and then toss it back.

       

9 comments:

  1. Hmmm... I don't know that I have ever thought about it that much. I guess it is whatever feels comfortable to me in the story I am writing.

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  2. When writing a poem I always if I possibly can try to use "alterative" words for example the word perseverance also means tenacity, I find it adds backbone to the poem, also I find it fun to use the dictionary for this purpose.
    I thought your post most interesting, a topic one has to ponder over which gets the old grey cells working.

    Yvonne.

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  3. They and their is so comfortable. It's how we speak. But I've worked hard to avoid using they when it should be he or she. (And I tend to just use he.)
    Ah, the time when men were men and women were women...

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  4. Hmmm... I don't use they for singular - probably a teacher thing. I do use "he or she" a lot, but when I generalize, I tend to use he. I think. :)

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  5. People are so sensitive that I stopped caring any more. I try to be smart about it but if I say something that offends somebody, its their problem not mine.

    Stephen Tremp

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  6. PERSNICKETY is a fun word
    Im afraid you will see how terriable my grammer is when I leave comments, can you pretend you dont see all my terriable mistakes?

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  7. too much alliteration bothers me. Like if I notice it, I think it's too much! I gave you an award, arlee, come over to my blog and pick it up!

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  8. So no strong opinions on this. I'm with Stephen Tremp's opinion. The whole political correctness and sensitivity thing gets absurd to a point.
    Thanks to everyone who did weigh in.
    As far as I'm concerned, it's still they, them, their for 3rd person singular gender neutral--it sounds comfortable to me.

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