Here’s something that you may not be aware of unless there is a transgender person in your life: Not everyone wants to be referred to as “he” or “she.” There are a number of reasons for this, which we won’t get into here, but it really opens a big can of worms in our language. What do we call these people if we can’t say “he” or “she” (and no one really wants to be called “it”)?The answer: Gender neutral pronouns! What are they? Well, there are a a few proposed options floating around, but here’s the set I’ve heard used the most:ze (pronounced “zee”)hir (pronounced “here”)For example:Ze is at the park.I called hir last night. Hir dog is adorable.The cat is also hirs.Ze made hirself dinner.These are, or course, not in common usage yet. But can you just imagine how much easier they’ll make our language if we pull them into common usage and reach total comfort with them? Think of all the times you’ve wanted to say “he/she” or “he or she.” You either settled on the awkward but accurate phrase, or you picked something easier. Maybe you said “he” and pissed off a feminist. Maybe you said “they” and pissed off a grammarian. Maybe you alternated between “he” and “she” in your paragraph and confused people. Maybe you totally restructured the entire sentence so you didn’t have to deal with the problem. Wouldn’t it have been nice to have had a gender neutral pronoun on hand?It happens all the time in hypothetical situations, especially in writing. It’s also an issue when you’re talking about someone in particular and hir gender hasn’t been identified yet. Wouldn’t it be great if you could just refer to hir as “ze,” come across as totally cool and non-offensive, and get to the point without floundering on word choice?I would argue that this isn’t about politics, or gender presentation, or wreaking havoc on our current system in any way. This is about a problem in our language, and a solution that’s just waiting for us to pick it up. It may be too early to start throwing the pronouns around in your daily speech and expecting people to understand them. But it’s not too early to start talking about it. That’s how it needs to spread. Tell someone you know about gender neutral pronouns, and why they will make hir life easier once we’re all comfortable with their usage. Ze may thank you.
We can be grateful as Americans that a country as big as ours has a relatively consistent language. While fast-paced Northerners may get annoyed at a slow Southern twang, at least they can understand each other (China’s situation, for example, is entirely different).There are a few regional quirks that one needs to be aware of, though. In New Hampshire (my home state), it was wicked. Wicked is an adverb, and it generally replaces the word “very.” Examples:That’s wicked cool.He ran wicked fast. Please Note: This is not to be confused with the adjective use of wicked, which is found in other New England states. New Hampshirites would call you a grammatical fool if you said, “That’s a wicked shirt you’ve got on today.” I now live in the San Francisco Bay Area, though, and they have their own favorite phrase: hella. Hella can be used everywhere a New Hampshirite says wicked, but it goes further than that. Based on initial observations, it appears that hella can be used not only to replace very, but also to replace really and the adjective, impressive. (As a side note, young San Franciscans sometimes PG version, hecka.) Here are some examples:I hella want to go to that show. (really)Those are some hella shoes. (impressive)This day has been hella long. (very)This evidence further supports my belief that San Franciscans are more relaxed and flexible than New Hampshirites. Further anthropological studies might expose a geographic link between the word wicked and the Salem witch trials. Such studies might also find a link between the liberal lifestyle of San Francisco and its likelihood, in the eyes of conservative Christians, of ending up in hell… but I digress. Since moving here, I’ve caught myself saying wicked several times, and corrected myself. Everytime I use hella, I wince, and then announce to my conversation partner how wicked cool I am that I can learn a new dialect.