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Staff editorial: The Daily adopts gender-neutral pronoun

The UW is a progressive university, always adapting to ensure the community stays safe and accepting. Most recently, the school’s nondiscrimination policy expanded to protect the queer and trans* communities. Thanks to the work of the Q Center, ASUW Queer Student Commission, and several other activists, the UW now has gender-neutral housing and gender-neutral bathrooms.

Starting today, The Daily will join the efforts of these organizations by implementing gender-neutral language, using “they” as a singular pronoun when applicable. Members of the UW community have voiced concerns about the lack of a gender-neutral pronoun in our coverage. We think these concerns are valid, and this change is an attempt to address them.

In a similar manner, The Daily has also started using the asterisk on “trans” as an umbrella term for all identities that go beyond biological sex.

These two changes address inadequacies in the English language. Despite the multitude of nouns, there are only three third-person singular pronouns: “he,” “she,” and “it.” In an increasingly gender-fluid society, these words are no longer enough.

Gender-neutral pronouns are not a new concept. English speakers have been searching for one for at least 150 years. According to an 1884 article in the New-York Commercial Advertiser, attempts were made to employ, on a large scale, the gender-neutral pronouns “ne,” “nis,” “nir,” and “hiser” in 1850. Those words, and the others invented since, haven’t stuck.

Currently “ze” and “hir” are used as gender-neutral pronouns in the same purpose as “they.” However, The Daily has chosen “they” because it is a more universally understood term.

This is an imperfect solution to the problem. Using “they” as a singular pronoun can create confusion because of its traditional function as a plural pronoun. Despite this confusion, The Daily would rather use a word that doesn’t force its subject to choose a single gender.

The search for a new word should not be abandoned. In a 2009 article in the Daily Mail, journalist Tom Utley wrote that the arrival of the millionth word in English came as a disappointment because the language still lacked a gender-neutral pronoun.

“It never ceases to infuriate me, for example, that in this cornucopia of a million words, there’s no simple, gender-neutral pronoun standing for ‘he-or-she,’” Utley wrote.

While some linguists have opted to use “he” to refer to all genders, others have recommended “he/she” be used in gender-neutral situations. Neither of these are ideal. Both account for when a person’s gender is unknown; however, neither provide a solution for when a person’s gender is fluid. The UW has made efforts to create an accepting environment for queer and trans* identities, and it’s time The Daily’s coverage reflects that.

This is the opinion of The Daily’s Editorial Board: Editor-in-Chief Sarah Schweppe, Special Sections Editor Lauren Kronebusch, Development Editor Hayat Norimine, News Editor Jillian Stampher, Sports Editor Kevin Dowd, Arts & Leisure Editor Joseph Sutton-Holcomb, Photo Editor Joshua Bessex, Features Editor Sarah Radmer, Science Editor McKenna Princing, Opinion Editor Katherine McKeon, and Copy Chief Kristen Steenbeeke.

Reach the editorial staff of The Daily at Opinion@dailyuw.com.

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