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While I fully understand and endorse the modernists’ wish to be gender neutral in writing about general topics, I sometimes find their efforts to be politically correct so annoying that I lose interest in the points they are trying to make.

For example: A writer’s primary goal is to communicate clearly. He or she strives to present his or her information precisely in order to be sure his or her reader will “get” exactly what he or she is offering him or her. OK. I made up this ludicrous exaggeration, but I think you get the picture.

I recently read an otherwise quite useful book—on writing, yet!—in which the author attempted to solve the problem by using s/he. I found that slash thing even more irritating than having those pronouns spelled out—and somewhat pretentious at that. In discussing the possibility of writer’s being interviewed on television or radio as part of a book promotion, she (the author was, indeed, female) wrote this gem:

Don’t expect the host to make you look good. S/he wants to look good. It’s his bread and butter.

The word host is clearly masculine, and the writer acknowledges that fact in “his bread and butter.” So what the devil is the point of that distracting S/he in the second sentence? Other than wanting to impress her reader with her own grasp of what is and is not PC?

Teachers of English grapple with this issue all the time. A possible solution may be to use second person (you), but formal discourse is rarely presented in second person. Or, one may use the distancing one, only to find the problem cropping up later: Is that one a he or a she, a him or a her? I used to advise my students to use the third person plural forms (they, them, their) as a possible solution—but to guard against illogical problems in agreement (e.g., “a writer wishes to entertain and inform their reader”).

English is such a versatile language that there is almost always another way to phrase an idea.