Norman Geras, over at the frighteningly frequently updated normblog, has quite rightly pointed out the unattractive ranting and lack of argument in David Gelernter’s lament over the destruction of the English language thanks to ‘arrogant ideologues’ on a mission ‘to defend the borders of the New Feminist state’. That we can no longer write ‘he’ in the comfortable assurance that it is meant to be non gender specific (?), is, according to David, a sad shame.

Instead we use the likes of ‘he or she’s which ‘keep bashing into surrounding phrases like bumper cars’ whilst ‘related deformities blossom like blisters’ (‘chairperson’, ‘humankind’ etc).

Aside from the fact that this is a rather nice use of simile (if a tad aggressive), does David have a point?

Yes and no.  Yes, because feminist worries sometimes lead to the use of ‘s/he’ which I struggle to see as anything but a barb in the way of smooth reading. I think it’s ugly and syntacyially strange. So there.

No, because language is organic and is clearly in a state of flux and upheaval in this area. We can expect it to settle, but we can’t look longingly at the past as some ideal of purity and rightness. For better or worse ‘he’ is for (me at least – born in the 80’s) very rarely gender neutral.

I quite like the recent trend in philosophy to use ‘she’ whenever gender specificity is not important. At first it jarred as a bit laboured and deliberate, but now I see it so often I think ‘why not?’ or else I don’t notice it at all. Go philosophy!