Pronoun for an asexual humanoid being?

Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by jannert, Oct 10, 2018.

  1. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    I also find myself really wanting to read the example, because of course I believe I can solve it--and will believe so until I discover I'm ever so wrong. :)
     
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  2. jannert

    jannert Member Supporter Contributor

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    I'll see what I can do. She might be willing to give us the example. And she would be seriously grateful if you could find a way to do it. She's an accomplished writer, by the way ...and has worked her butt off on this. She started out being worried about offending people who consider themselves to either be asexual or genderless. Now she's more worried about the writing sounding daft as a brush.
     
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  3. Alan Aspie

    Alan Aspie Member

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    Being worried about offending because of some group identity is sure way to write daft crap.

    She can either write good text or concentrate to being politically correct.

    Or... She can do both but that will be a satire. And it can work well as a satire.
     
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  4. jannert

    jannert Member Supporter Contributor

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    No, it's not meant to be a satire at all. In fact, it's a story she's been building for a long time, but she's recently made major changes, and this gender thing is an issue that just cropped up. (In her earlier version, the beings did have gender ...now they don't, because it makes more sense in terms of her plot and storybuilding.) She is a very kind person, who would never knowingly offend somebody because of their gender or sexual identity. But, like me, she has no idea what might or might not offend. So this is why she was trying different ways to approach the issue.
     
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  5. Bone2pick

    Bone2pick Member

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    That's super awkward for me.​
     
  6. Iain Sparrow

    Iain Sparrow Contributor Contributor

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    How many of them are characters in the story?
    If there's seven or less, the humans in the story could give them the names of God's archangels.
     
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  7. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    Just Jane and Joe. :)
     
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  8. The Dapper Hooligan

    The Dapper Hooligan Member Supporter Contributor

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    It is a little awkward, but I think that's more because the first 'their' draws attention to itself by coming after three names and an aside, kinda forcing you pay attention to it to figure out it refers to Bob. Then the second 'their' comes so closely after it has no choice but to look awkward. I would personally probably reword it something like:

    "... I nodded and Alien Joe materialized beside Bob. I took both their arms and as I tugged them up the sidewalk, I said..."
     
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  9. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    Really, it occurs to me that I can all but eliminate pronouns. Nabbing @The Dapper Hooligan 's suggestion and doing more rephrasing. Doing the capitalization thing. I also changed the names, because the names were suggesting gender.

    Alien Sock murmured, "What is this tradition?"

    I shrugged. "It's a festival. Wait till later; we can watch videos."

    Sock brightened--literally; Socks' bulbous head began to glow, tentacles waving gently. "Videos are always enjoyable."

    (snip)

    Sock murmured, "Drunk?" Head tilted, tentacles waving faster, They eyed Jane and Joe. Well, I say eyed, but instead of eyes...oh, never mind.

    I nodded and Alien Shoe materialized beside Sock. I took both their arms. As I tugged them up the sidewalk, I said, "Fermented fruit or grain. Come on, Sock. Come on, Shoe. Lights and slush are a recipe for electrocution. Let's make cookies."
    Or the last pronoun can go:

    Sock murmured, "Drunk?" Head tilted, tentacles waving faster, eyeing Jane and Joe. Well, I say eyeing, but instead of eyes...oh, never mind.
     
  10. jannert

    jannert Member Supporter Contributor

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    Again, I think it's relatively easy when your scene contains mostly comic dialogue, and doesn't go on for too long. It's serious narrative passages that can become VERY problematic, if you don't have access to unambiguous pronouns. Trying to refer to a roomful of they/thems as singular they/thems is ...well, not ideal. My sense of 'ideal' is a story which is easy to follow and word usage doesn't call undue attention to itself.
     
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  11. jannert

    jannert Member Supporter Contributor

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    Well, 'both' is a useful word ...provided each of 'them' has only one arm. However, if each of 'them' has two arms? Erm... :bigconfused:
     
  12. Some Guy

    Some Guy dilettante assassin! Supporter

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    She. Most species form as a female embryo, then become male at some following stage.

    Changed my mind. use: 'e
     
    Last edited: Oct 12, 2018
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  13. Oscar Leigh

    Oscar Leigh Contributor Contributor

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    Xe/Xor/Xin?
     
  14. The Dapper Hooligan

    The Dapper Hooligan Member Supporter Contributor

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    Then I guess you could take them both by the arm.

    How is this different than referring to a roomful of singular hims or hers? Walking into a bridal shower, nodding your head towards the center of the room, and saying "her" isn't going to be much less ambiguous. I do get what you're trying to say, though, and if you are set on using gender specific pronouns, then I would take that cue from the Point Of View character. It would make sense if that if they see an angel character as male or female, then to use "he" or "she" would make complete sense. If you switch POV and that character sees them as the opposite or only as "they's," then that would be kind of interesting.
     
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  15. jannert

    jannert Member Supporter Contributor

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    You're right with that one. But it's a slightly different issue. A pronoun should never be used unless the person/persons referred to are crystal-clear in the text. If the previous statement indicated that the narrator was looking for Anna, and then the next sentence said he looked across the crowded room and saw 'her,' we would not be the least bit confused. If he said that he was looking for Anna, Gina and Joan, then looked across the room and saw 'her,' we would be confused.

    The asexual use of 'them/they' is an interesting issue, because it boils down to grammar, really. The idea that an asexual being could be a 'them' in terms of their sexuality is plausible. (Although in one sense it implies a plural sexuality, rather than none.) However, what happens is 'they' and 'them' are pretty necessary words to use for other things. Trust me, the confusion can be massive. They and Them will always jump out at the reader as meaning 'plural,' not asexual. Even though your brain thinks it's ready for the shift, we discovered last night that it's not. Every time 'they' or 'them' got mentioned during the reading, there was this momentary stoppage as we tried to figure out whether this was the singular or the plural, and what it applied to. A being? Christmas lights? One being? Two beings?

    I think we need new pronouns and their plurals for gender issues, really. Unless characters, regardless of their sexual preference, regard themselves as male or female, there isn't really a neutral pronoun to apply to them except 'it,' which doesn't seem respectful. I know some animal lover people who hate it when an animal is referred to as 'it.' They claim that 'it' should always be either an abstract concept or an inanimate object.

    Maybe someday we'll have those new pronouns we need. Until they are established, however, cooked-up ones are likely to strike a discordant note in a short story or novel.
     
  16. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    Just as a quibble—the singular ‘they’ isn’t so much cooked up as old fashioned—it was used that way for a long time. That doesn’t change the point that modern ears hear it as plural.

    But since it was used for a long time, I still think we can reclaim it.

    Edited to add: I was too lazy to find a link before. Found one:

    https://public.oed.com/blog/a-brief-history-of-singular-they/
     
    Last edited: Oct 12, 2018
  17. jannert

    jannert Member Supporter Contributor

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    Excellent article. I'll pass it on.

    The problem with our dilemma last night is that the writer is trying to use they and them as singular AND plural pronouns ...and in the same paragraphs use they and them to refer to inanimate objects as well. I know we already use 'they' as a singular...example: "If a person goes into a store and steals merchandise, they are shoplifting—whether they have a good excuse or not." However, it's clear from the context that this is a singular person, whose gender is irrelevant to this topic. However, start writing things like: "They went to the door and let them in," when you are referring to two single individuals? You've just created a dog's breakfast for the reader to sort out.

    Like I said before, philosophically I have no problem with the usage of 'they' for a neutral gender person. It's the practical side of this that creates problems for a writer, not the philosophical one.

    Personally, I'd love to see all sorts of pronouns get a revamp, because the ambiguities are legion ...even without adding this one. Trying to find a singular pronoun for a person whose gender is unknown is not easy—even without adding the complication of gender neutrality that IS known—or if there are more than one of the neutral gender people in the frame.

    I could go with thay and thays, thum and thums, you and youze ...it and itters? :)
     
  18. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    But could they perhaps avoid that? We already do a lot of dancing around to avoid pronoun ambiguity--for example, 'she' might mean the mother or the child or the puppy or the ship--we rephrase to avoid that ambiguity. I'm wondering if this is an equally doable, just less familiar and therefore impossible-seeming, dance.
     
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  19. jannert

    jannert Member Supporter Contributor

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    To be honest, I don't think it's possible to do it over a sustained bit of writing without it taking over from the story. Suddenly it's all you're aware of, and it just gets worse. I remember partway through just giving up and letting it wash over me. I'm not saying it couldn't be tweaked ...anything can be tweaked. But I think there is a much simpler solution, especially in this particular story. She sees the beings as male, they have deliberately shown themselves as male ...so she refers to them individually as he. Them and they are reserved for when she's speaking about both of them together.
     
  20. The Dapper Hooligan

    The Dapper Hooligan Member Supporter Contributor

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    I'm not disagreeing with you, but I think that right now wouldn't be a good time to decide that. This is something you've had your mind focused on for a while now, so of course you're going to be much more aware of it than you otherwise would. It might be a good idea to step back from it for a bit to give your brain some breathing room, then see how you objectively feel about it.
     
  21. jannert

    jannert Member Supporter Contributor

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    Well, it's not my writing, so I am not as close to it as my friend is. I would agree with you, if it were me doing the writing though. I'm a big believe in letting an idea cook for a while. However, I have the horrible feeling that time is not our friend, in this instance.

    However, that's why I brought it up here on the forum. I wondered if anybody had an idea she hadn't already tried. I forwarded the responses to her, and she says she'll get back to me in a day or so. I'll be interested to hear if anybody's suggestion bears fruit. Again, thanks to everybody for tackling this. It's funny how simple ideas can become quite difficult when they're actually put into practice.
     
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  22. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    In the specific case of your friend's problem, I don't disagree--if they present themselves as male, I see zero problem with her using a male pronoun.

    I'm talking about the more general case.
     
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  23. exweedfarmer

    exweedfarmer Active Member

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    Hermaphroditic Humonkerous, Angel, A-sexual wordy som-bitch, Androgynous prolixian person, very old man, hereditary eunuch, just how creative are you willing to get?
     
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  24. badgerjelly

    badgerjelly Contributor Contributor

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    I have this issue with many of the species in my world. I simply refer to them by species name or “it”. When they are talking they use each others names, or loke in English use “they” if unsure of sex (like when you refer to someone’s absent child as “they” rather than guessing “he”/“she”.

    There are a few terms I have come up with regarding sexual reproduction - I have a lot of different patterns for this lifted from actually biology. Fascinating subject. If you’re interested take a looksee here:

     
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  25. badgerjelly

    badgerjelly Contributor Contributor

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    Or, of course, go for the method of romance languages and say humano and humana or something equivalent. Pretty much everyone understands that the suffix “-a” means female and suffix “-o” means male. You can then apply this idea to other intraspecies group identities (based on age, height, social standing, etc.,.)
     
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