Thursday, April 16, 2009

Facebook: Assaulting the English Language Five Picks at a Time

I usually don't get upset at the singular "they." English has no singular non-gendered personal pronoun. "He" sounds sexist, "he or she" is awkward, and "it" isn't personal. In casual speech and writing, using "they" as a non-gendered singular pronoun seems acceptable. I've heard Harry Truman use it (well, I heard a recording of Harry Truman using it). Take the title of Tea N. Crumpet's recent post, " Clean up, clean up, everybody does their share. . . " No problem. But Facebook has taken the singular "they" to a new, and to my mind, unacceptable level.

I was wasting my time on Facebook last night, and took one of its "Pick Five" applications: "Pick 5 Cars You've Had." Once it came up with a picture of a 1972 Volkswagen Fastback (mine was blue, and not orange, though), I was hooked. But then my picks were posted on my Facebook page, with this legend:

"Stephen picked their (5) for '5 cars you've had...'"

"Stephen picked THEIR???" Have I become plural? And the sad thing is, there are so many ways to get around the pronoun. For instance, "Stephen picked 5 for '5 cars you've had.'" Or, "The 5 cars Stephen picked are..." I'm sure I could come up with a dozen more perfectly grammatical ways to express it.

Facebook is the preferred social networking site for Americans, and probably for the the planet. When Facebook (and as far as I can tell, "Pick 5" is an application designed by Facebook) says something outright barbarous, to use Orwell's phrase, a lot of people are going to assume it's grammatical. I have no idea how to complain to Facebook, so I'll just send this out into cyberspace.


Charles Gramlich said...

Perhaps they are diagnosing you as multiple personality! ;)

Totally bizarre indeed.

twoblueday said...

Tense and number, tense and number, that's my mantra.

Kellie Davis said...

Were Stephen beside himselves with rage? ;)

This is an assault on the eyes to write like this!

steve on the slow train said...

Charles--If so, every Facebook user has a multiple personality.

Gerry--And a good one.

Kellie--As our last president said, "Is our childrend learning?"