Written by Azuka Onwuka - Nigeria
One of the most awkward realities in the English language is the absence of a pronoun that can conveniently and precisely represent the expression "he or she" or its derivatives like "him or her," "himself and herself," etc.
In the old order when the world was unapologetically male-centric or chauvinistic, "he" was used to represent the unknown or unstated gender: "He who humbles himself will be exalted; he who exalts himself will be humbled."
In a bid not to be accused of continued linguistic discrimination against women, the plural pronoun "they" was adopted to represent "he or she" - that is, when the sex of the person in question is not stated or known. Let us take an example from the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary (7th edition). This is how the world-famous and well-respected dictionary defines the word "headstrong": "A headstrong person is determined to do things their own way and refuses to listen to advice" (emphasis mine). How can "is" (singular) and "their" (plural) and "refuses" (singular) all be used for the same subject in one sentence? This breaks the rudimentary rule of grammar.
Let's look at other similar examples in today's English where "they" is used to represent the singular unstated gender: 1. "It's so good when you love someone and they love you back." Someone would ask: Are you in love with one person or a crowd? 2. "Whom the cap fits, let them wear it." The question arises: Are you referring to one person or many people wearing one cap? Can more than one person wear a cap at the same time? 3. "Everyone should do what they think is right." Question: Is "every" not referring to one anymore? 4. "Each person should take care of their expenses." Someone would ask: When did "each" become a plural word?
There are language conservatives and purists across the globe - I am one of them - who feel shocked or uncomfortable when a noun is treated both as a singular word and a plural word in one sentence. Despite the incontestable authority and unimpeachable pedigree of the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary, I will NEVER use a similar statement in any speech or essay. If I did, I would feel that I had committed cold-blooded linguistic murder.
The repercussion of using "they" in place of "he or she" is that we have replaced one problem with a bigger problem. How can I explain to my little boy that "they" is a plural pronoun today and a singular pronoun tomorrow? If my son were to say then, "Daddy, they has come to see you," would I tell him, "That's wrong English, my son"?
Furthermore, there is a third group of English speakers who prefer to use "he or she" or "that person" or "someone" when the gender of the individual involved is not stated or known. If they were to make the above statement by Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary, they would rather say: "A headstrong person is determined to do things his or her way and refuses to listen to advice." That way, they can feel at peace with themselves.
However, in cases where you have a long sentence which describes a situation in which the gender of the person referred to can either be male or female, it becomes clumsy using "he or she" many times in one sentence. Here is an example:
"When your spouse hurts you by showing that he or she does not care about you anymore, but you still love him or her and want him or her to rekindle the love he or she had for you, how do you make him or her realise that by hurting you, he or she is hurting himself or herself?"
One really needs to take a glass of cold water after uttering this statement or even reading it. It can leave one dizzy or gasping for breath. There is no denying the fact that although the statement above is correct, it sounds clumsy because of the absence of a pronoun that can be used in place of "he or she." If you use only "he," you exclude the women; and if you use only "she," you exclude the men. What you want to ask concerns the man and woman in a marriage.
To avoid these awkward scenarios, I hereby suggest that "fam" be adopted as a pronoun that will be used instead of "he or she." It has the following advantages:
- It still connotes "he" and "she" since it was coined from the first letters of "female and male," with the women given primacy.
- It does not discriminate against any of the sexes.
- Unlike "they," it still retains the singular status inherent in "he" or "she."
- It is short and sharp.
- It is not difficult to articulate or remember.
S/N Subject Object Possessive Reflexive
- I me my mine myself
- he/she him/her his/her his/hers himself/ herself
- you You your yours yourself
- it it its its Itself
Replacing "fam" in the statement above, one gets: "When your spouse hurts you by showing that 'fam' does not care about you anymore, but you still love 'fam' and want 'fam' to rekindle the love 'fam' had for you, how do you make 'fam' realise that by hurting you, 'fam' is hurting 'famself'?"
At first, new words usually sound strange and odd. For example, today some people feel comfortable and trendy using "anyways" (which I can never use as long as "anyway" still exists). Some decades ago, the plural of "stadium" was compulsorily "stadia." Today, it is perfectly acceptable to use "stadiums" as the plural of "stadium."
So many new words have been coined and added to the English language like liger (a crossbreed between a lion and a tiger), shopaholic, tweet, can-do, me-too, etc. Therefore, there is nothing strange about the use of "fam". What it will take this word to be accepted and adopted is for it to be added to the dictionary and used in English expressions. Once it is done, it will offer every English user the opportunity to use English the way "fam" wants without feeling that "fams" English usage is either grammatically wrong or clumsy. That will make such a user of English feel at peace with "famself". How about that?