Thank you, editors of The New Yorker!


See what they did there? They respected the English language in the headline on the right. It should be unremarkable for the editors of such a prestigious journal to do so, but the way things have been going, I feel compelled to remark.

Too many these days would write “When Should a Child Be Taken from Their Parents?,” and not even be ashamed of doing so.

Oh, by the way, the other headline is to a piece about to the video below, which is mildly amusing. And not once does he say, “wheezin’ on the grindage, buddd-DY!” Which is good…

45 thoughts on “Thank you, editors of The New Yorker!

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    An interesting thing noted in the Shore piece: Pauly is two decades older than the guy he’s lampooning.

    Weird, huh? The ultimate goofball youth being that much older than the bald “senior” White House official.

    Further proof that the world has been turned upside-down…

  2. Holly Gatling

    How about: When Should Children Be Taken from Their Parents? Or even better: When Should a Child Be Taken from Her Parents?

    I was an early fighter for inclusive language that is grammatically correct and makes sense. Retro use of the masculine pronoun as being inclusive is so regressive.

    1. Bart Rogers

      “When Should a Child Be Taken from His, Her, or Their Parents?” Now that is all inclusive and eliminates any gender reference that may be offensive or at least it should be. No, wait a moment! What about the parents who do not want a gender identity listed on a child’s birth certificate? What then? If the child is taken away from the parents, how does one identify what gender the child really is? Some parents are already insisting the gender on the birth certificate be omitted. Oh well, no matter what we do or say in our ever changing society, we are going to offend someone.

    2. Richard

      “Retro use of the masculine pronoun as being inclusive is so regressive.”

      And that right there is what is wrong with this country. Too many PC people who have nothing better to do than worry about petty things like this.

    3. Brad Warthen Post author

      Except that, you know, it isn’t. Regressive, I mean.

      I don’t mind using “she” at all, as long as you have a way of communicating quickly to the reader that you’re not specifying that the child is a girl. Using the inclusive “he” skips that step; it is universal.

      And I just can’t imagine that a single girl or woman has ever been disadvantaged by using the inclusive “he.” It doesn’t make males special; in fact it does quite the opposite, making them generic. But for some reason my feminist friends get infuriated by the idea that males are generic. I get confused. They don’t want males getting special privileges, and they don’t want them to be downgraded to generic. I’ve always had trouble following the logic in that worldview.

      Anyway, as I say, if we want to make girls the generic ones, I suppose I can go along — but only if everyone knows and understands it and agrees (which is where we were on the inclusive “he” for all of the history of English until the last few decades). Because my goal here is not the aggrandizement of this group or that. I couldn’t care less about such things. What I want is clarity and economy of communication. I care about the language more than I do about Identity Politics….

      1. Holly Gatling

        Me thinks thou protesteth too much. What is unclear about using the plural? It is grammatically correct and gender neutral.

        1. Doug Ross

          “Or even better: When Should a Child Be Taken from Her Parents?”

          How is this better? It’s exactly the same as using the word His instead. It’s not “better”. Unless you are suggesting that it is better for a female child to be taken from her parents. Which might be better if she was being raised by parents who worry about the societal impact of using the word his.

          1. Claus2

            Just make it “its” and be done with it… it can then be male, female, transsexual, sanssexual, metrosexual, homosexual, bisexual, or any other sexual gender.

            1. Holly Gatling

              For the grammar literati and purists, the pronoun it is not appropriate when referring to human beings.

        2. Scout

          But it’s not grammatically correct. It is a plural pronoun, and it’s antecedent was a singular noun.

          As I said before, I have no problem acknowledging that maybe we need a new word – but ‘they’ and ‘theirs’ are already taken with other meanings.

          Communication requires common acknowledgement of the definitions of the words used. You can’t just take a word that has an established meaning and suddenly decree it will now mean something else. At least not if you want to continue to be an effective communicator.

  3. Holly Gatling

    Such anger!! Tisk, tisk. So why are you guys not commenting on the use of the gender neutral, grammatically correct plural — children/their — that solves the problem?

    1. Doug Ross

      I don’t sense any anger. Just some pushback on your belief that using “her” was better than using “his”. You have not explained how that is even better than children/their.

      1. Holly Gatling

        The purpose is for grammatical reparation that afflicts smugly comfortable grammarians and comforts those afflicted by patriarchal grammar.

        1. Doug Ross

          I’m sensing you get a little shiver up your spine each time you use “her” where “his” was formerly considered grammatically correct. “Take that, smugly comfortable grammarians!!!” One small step for women, one giant leap for wo-mankind.

        2. Bart Rogers

          Holy Grammatical Microaggression Batperson!!!! cried Robin, Batperson’s gender neutral sidekick. Someone has been offended by patriarchal grammar!!! We must hurry to the Batmobile and gather the SJW squad to respond with us so we can comfort the offended person!!! This could create turmoil in the offended person’s safe place and then into riots in the streets until the offender is apprehended and sent to a rehabilitation facility or permanently exiled to a remote island where it can do no more harm.

          The above comment is for fun only. The serious question I have to ask anyone offended is this. “Just what the hell do you do with your time other than find something that offends you but most of the nation and world in general could care less and gives it less than a micro-second consideration? Are there no starving children in the world to spend your time trying to feed? Are there no homeless people who need assistance? Are there students in our school system who need tutoring because of learning disabilities?

          The list can go on and on and on and on, ad infinitum of needs that far outweigh a cause “for grammatical reparation that afflicts smugly comfortable grammarians and comforts those afflicted by patriarchal grammar.”

          Get a life!

          1. Holly Gatling

            Thanks for the advice. I am a recovering newspaper reporter and currently the executive director of South Carolina Citizens for Life, the state affiliate of the National Right to Life Committee. I’m all about equal rights for unborn women . . . and men. I’m glad your mom chose life. Have a nice one.

            1. Bart Rogers

              I too support the right to life movement and equal rights for the unborn. Thank you for your involvement. As for my mom, if she were alive, she would be a strong supporter as well. She was one of the strongest feminists I have ever known or met but at the same time, gender references didn’t bother her unless someone called her a “bitch”. Then she might get upset and when she did, we all got out of her way.

              Thank you for the exchange and keep up the good work. On that point, you have my total, unwavering support. Hope your recovery from being a newspaper reporter is going well, you might be able to help Brad with his withdrawal from the addiction to newspaper ink.

                1. Brad Warthen Post author

                  And… I should have made introductions.

                  I almost did. I almost said, Guys, you know you’re not arguing here with some stereotypical feminist.

                  But I didn’t, because that would suggest there’s something remarkable about being a feminist and being pro-life. And in my experience, that’s not the case. I know plenty of pro-life feminists. I live with one…

                2. Brad Warthen Post author

                  Actually, I take that back. I don’t want to call my wife a feminist or any kind of “-ist.” She’s an open-minded, thinking person, not an ideologue of any kind…

                3. Bart Rogers

                  Yes Brad, you should have made the introduction before I made an “ass” out of myself in my reply to Holly. But, with the grace and wit of someone who is a skilled grammarian, Holly replied with the appropriate comment to my insensitive remarks.

                  Lesson learned – never respond negatively to one whose use of the English language is obviously superior unless you are on solid ground. And it would have been nice to know about her very admirable background and present association with an organization close to my heart.

                  Holly, thank you for the lesson in humility. :-)

    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      The plural (children/their) is fine, when it fits with the piece. What’s intolerable is “child/their.”

      And in this case, “children” WOULD have fit with the piece. Which I, as a Catholic with 5 kids, was glad to see.

      Often, when speaking of hypotheticals, a single child is mentioned. Say, in some memo from a school, the parent will be told how to, say, drop off “your child,” as though you’re only expected to have one.

      Yeah, I know. Y’all think I’m being paranoid, but that always strikes me because I doubt that it reflects reality. I suspect that most people have more than one child at a given school during much of their children’s school careers. (Maybe I’m wrong, but don’t most people who have kids have more than one?) Yet the single “child” language seems to predominate.

      That assumption is so common that I was struck by the extent to which this piece spoke of “children” rather than “child,” when “child” would have worked just as well. An excerpt:

      The caseworker will tell you you’re being investigated for abusing or neglecting your children. She will tell you to wake them up and tell them to take clothes off so she can check their bodies for bruises and marks. She will interview you and your kids separately, so you can’t hear what she’s asking them or what they’re saying…

      Anyway, I couldn’t help noticing, and couldn’t help enjoying it, as someone who tires of the singular assumption.

      Perhaps this is something with which Holly will agree…

  4. bud

    I would prefer “Their” . Clearly his or her are incorrect. His implies it’s male which is decidedly not correct unless that is known. The gender neutral thinking really is a bit offensive frankly. Her for the same reason. His/Her or Their is just too wordy. The story is broadly dealing with multiple events not just a single incident. Their is the best compromise. Language evolves so this seems like a good evolution to me.

      1. Holly Gatling

        Absolutely correct, professor. My antecedent is children. That is plural; therefore, their is the correct pronoun.

  5. Brad Warthen Post author

    These debates we’ve been having the last few decades over the inclusive masculine pronoun are particularly frustrating if, like me, you spent part of your childhood speaking Spanish.

    In Spanish, the presumption that a masculine word will do for all extends FAR beyond pronouns.

    For instance, the word for “parents” is “padres,” which translates literally as “fathers.” And “children” translates as “niños.” In context, “padres” is understood to include “madres,” and “niños” is expected to include niñas.

    Maybe there’s a terrific debate going on about that in Hispanic countries, but it hasn’t reached me yet.

    Of course, we’re talking about more traditional cultures than ours.

    Que no haya novedad

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      I’m wondering what sort of conversations they’re having on this subject in other Western languages that, unlike English, assign gender to all nouns. Anybody know? That’s totally outside my ken…

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            Speaking of which…

            I read the first reading at the Spanish Mass on Sunday, the first time I’ve done so this year. Somehow I had fallen off the schedule, but recently I tracked down the scheduler and got back on.

            It had been SO long that I had a moment of panic Sunday morning: I didn’t have the book for this year! And when I went back to the last book that fell in Cycle A, 2014 (I keep at least the last three years at home, in case I lose the current book or something), the reading didn’t match up because this was the Feast of the Transfiguration, and that didn’t fall on a Sunday in 2014, so the reading wasn’t there!

            Fortunately, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has started running the Spanish readings on their website, so I was able to study it and practice.

            And I HAVE TO practice. I listen to other gringos do Spanish readings, and it’s all well and good for them to do it with an American English accent, but not for me. I didn’t have a gringo accent when I was a kid, so if I hear myself failing to use an appropriate Spanish accent, it’s very jarring to my ear.

            And to do that, I have to warm up the appropriate muscles in my tongue and face, because it means producing sounds that don’t occur in English. So I have to read the whole thing aloud over and over until it comes out smoothly and I don’t sound like a Texan or something.

            Here’s what I read Sunday, from the seventh chapter of Daniel:

            Yo, Daniel, tuve una visión nocturna:
            Vi que colocaban unos tronos
            y un anciano se sentó.
            Su vestido era blanco como la nieve,
            y sus cabellos, blancos como lana.
            Su trono, llamas de fuego,
            con ruedas encendidas.
            Un río de fuego brotaba delante de él.
            Miles y miles lo servían,
            millones y millones estaban a sus órdenes.
            Comenzó el juicio y se abrieron los libros.

            Yo seguí contemplando en mi visión nocturna
            y vi a alguien semejante a un hijo de hombre,
            que venía entre las nubes del cielo.
            Avanzó hacia el anciano de muchos siglos
            y fue introducido a su presencia.
            Entonces recibió la soberanía, la gloria y el reino.
            Y todos los pueblos y naciones
            de todas las lenguas lo servían.
            Su poder nunca se acabará, porque es un poder eterno,
            y su reino jamás será destruido.

            I stumbled a few times, in practice, over “soberanía,” which means “sovereignty.” “Juicio” (“judgment”) threw me a bit, too. But by the time I ascended to the pulpit, I had them down. I DID stumble once, on a much easier word (I forget which one), but I recovered and on the whole it went pretty smoothly.

            But then the guy doing the second reading got up, and blew me out of the water. He’s a native speaker, and the fluidity and confidence of his delivery made me sound like a guy reading from a phrasebook.

            When I was a kid, I used to sound like that. At least I thought I did. It FELT that way, but I don’t guess it’s ever going to feel like that again. Too many years have passed since I spoke it every day.

            At least I have the satisfaction of sounding better than the priest, who had the job of doing the whole rest of the Mass in Spanish — and doing it bravely, despite it being so obvious that it’s not HIS native language.

            I guess I’ll have to be satisfied with that — knowing that I do it FAIRLY well, for a gringo. But when I was a kid, I would have scoffed at someone who sounded the way I do now…

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              This line made me smile: “Su vestido era blanco como la nieve.”

              Back in December 1971 — when my Spanish was a lot fresher in my mind — my family and I were moving from Hawaii to Memphis. We had flown to California and picked up our car, and then drove cross country. We decided to take the Southern route because of the time of year, and we took our time seeing the country, staying on military bases along the way (my Dad was still in the Navy).

              We ended up spending a day in El Paso, and crossed over to Juarez to see the sites. Our cab driver rattled away in Spanish to my parents during the ride, and they kept up pretty well (for people who learned the language as adults). I just sort of half-listened while staring silently out the window.

              The next morning, we woke up at the BOQ and looked out, and the ground was covered with snow! This does not happen very often in that part of Texas, and it ended up shutting down the highways so we had to stay there for two days.

              My parents were deeply surprised at this turn of events, but I just looked out the window and said, “I guess the cab driver was right.” He had been talking the weather, but since we had learned Spanish in the tropics, the word “nieve” didn’t come up a lot — so my parents hadn’t understood that he was saying it was going to snow.

              This is one of those situations a teenager relishes, when he gets to feel SO much smarter than his parents…

              1. Brad Warthen Post author

                But then how would I practice my Spanish? I don’t get enough practice as it is.

                Hey, when I lived in Ecuador, we all became fluent in Spanish. But we went to church services — generic, nondenominational Protestant church services — in English. Why? Because we preferred it that way.

                And I can’t imagine why anyone would begrudge Spanish-speaking Catholics a chance to go to Mass in Spanish, if that’s what they prefer. Anyway, I’ve been happy to help provide that, starting when I was on the Hispanic Ministry committee at my church back in the 90s or so. Now, most of the roles have been filled by native Hispanics. But I still like doing the readings — I like the challenge — and I try to do it as well as I can so they’ll let me keep doing it…

                That said, if I’d been Catholic back when we lived in Ecuador, we probably would have just gone to a local church. The Masses were in Latin back then, so it would have been just like home. I doubt it would have been worth it to try to scrape up enough English-speaking Catholics for a congregation…

                1. Brad Warthen Post author

                  My best friend Tony did not attend those services I went to. I noticed that, and wondered aloud about it to another kid who was a friend to both of us, and he said, “That’s because they’re not Christians. They’re Catholic.”

                  He didn’t say it judgmentally. It was more like, “He doesn’t join us for breakfast because he doesn’t eat breakfast.”

                  But I wondered: Is that right? Are Catholics actually not Christian? If so, that was something I had not known.

                  I was only 9 or 10 years old…

  6. Holly Gatling

    What does one say to calm a highly agitated grammar Nazi? “There, their, there.” Gently stroking his head helps too.


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