Wednesday, November 3, 2010

English Language Pet Peeve!

Do you recognize what's wrong with the following sentences?

1. The swimmer finished their lap in under a minute.
2. The book went in their locker.
3. It's all in their head.

You might not see anything wrong at first, we've become so accustomed to mixing up our plurals and singulars in written and spoken language that many people don't even notice the mistake.

Here's the problem:

1. Swimmer is singular - their is plural: How can more than one swimmer finish the same lap? How does that work? Are they all wrapped around each other, like a giant, floating wad? It must be hard to do the breast stroke...or any stroke...that way, eh?

2. Book and locker are singular - their is plural: Apparently several people all own one locker and one book? Good heavens, I hope it's one of mine!

3. Their is plural - head is singular: This one is the scariest. Are several people sharing one head? Is this a story about Siamese twins who share a body and have two heads?

Believe it or not, this problem was initiated with the woman's movement and political correctness. No, I haven't lost my mind, this is what happened. We used to use "he" as a general identifier for an unknown subject. But when the woman's movement came along, this useage was determined to be sexist and discriminatory. So writers and speakers found that they were suddenly burdened with the obligation of using he/she, him/her, his/hers. That quickly becomes bulky, so, being an eminently practical species, we developed what felt like a shortcut. He/she/him/her/his/hers all got meshed up under their/theirs/them. This might be easier...but trust me when I tell you it isn't right. And it drives language purists like yours truly absolutely bonkers! #:0)

Now I understand that my discomfort with the mangling of language rules won't matter a hill of beans to anyone but me. However, after reading this, it might start to drive some of you crazy too! And, much to your chagrin, misery really does love company! hehehe


Toni V.S. said...

Sam, I agree wholeheartedly! And I won't get on my soapbox and there will be no room for others to comment!

L. E. Brown said...

Oh, it matters to more than you might think. I share this pet peeve with you, and most likely a few others, such as the less vs. fewer fight.

Sam Cheever said...

Toni and L.E. thanks for stopping by. It's really good to know I'm not alone! #:0)