LINGUIST List 2.641

Thu 10 Oct 1991

Disc: Themself and Yours

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. Ron Kuzar, Themself
  2. "Bruce E. Nevin", they
  3. Paul Saka, RE: yours/you's

Message 1: Themself

Date: Wed, 9 Oct 1991 08:59 IST
Subject: Themself
During 1974-1976 I lived in Northern California. The use of they
and themself among counter-culture people then and there was widespread.
An alternative dentistry book called "The Tooth Trip" which I read at the time
had many "themself"s.
Ron Kuzar
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Message 2: they

Date: Wed, 9 Oct 91 08:57:33 EDT
From: "Bruce E. Nevin" <>
Subject: they
OED cites use of "they, them, their" with indefinite "one, someone,"
etc. as antecedent in Fielding ("Everyone in the house were in their
beds"), Goldsmith, Sydney Smith, Thackeray ("A person can't help their
birth"), Bagehot ("Nobody in their senses"), and George Bernard Shaw,
noting only that it is "not favoured by grammarians."
>From quoting this, Fowler _Modern English Usage_ (article "they, them,
their") continues
 that the grammarians are likely, nevertheless, to have their way on
 the point is suggested by the old-fashioned sound of the Fielding &
 Thackeray sentences quoted; few good modern writers would flout the
 grammarians so conspicuously.
He gives examples (many of his examples throughout are from contemporary
i.e.turn-of-the-century press):
 The lecturer said that everybody loved their ideals.
 Nobody in their senses would give sixpence on the strength of a
 	promissory note of that kind.
 Elsie Lindtner belongs to the kind of person who suddenly discovers
	the beauty of the stars when they themselves are dull & have no
	one to talk with
Of the last, he says it is
 amusing by the number of the emendations that hurry to the rescue;
 E.L. is ond of the people who discover ... ; ... kind of people who
 discover ...; ... when he himself is ... ; ... when she herself is
 ... ; ... the kind of woman who discovers ... when she herself is ...
The reason given is avoidance of sexist diction (though the term
"sexist" is of course not used):
 "The grammar of the recently issued appeal to the Unionists of
 Ireland, signed by Sir Edward Carson, the Duke of Abercorn, Lord
 Londonderry, & others, is as shaky as its arguments. The concluding
 sentence runs: `And we trust that everybody interested will send a
 contribution, however small, to this object, thereby demonstrating
 their (sic) personal interest in the anti-Home Rule campaigh'.
 Archbishop Whately used to say that women were more liable than men
 to fall into this error, as they objected to identifying `everybody'
 with `him'. But no such excuse is available in this case."
 _Their_ should be _his_; & the origin of the mistake is clearly
 reluctance to recognize that the right shortening of the combersome
 he or she, his or her, &c, is he or him or his though the reference
 may be to both sexes. Whether that reluctance is less felt by the
 male is doubtful; at any rate the OED quotes examples . . .
The quotations are at the beginning of this note.
In the article "number" (heading 11, pronouns and possessives after
each, every, anyone, no-one, etc), Fowler offers more examples:
 Everyone without further delay gave themselves up to rejoicing.
 But, as anybody can see for themselves, the quotation of the
 	actually relevant portion of the argument in our columns would
	have destroyed . . .
Saying of them:
 Each & the rest are all singular; that is undisputed; in a perfect
 language there would exist pronouns and possessives that were of as
 doubtful gender as they & yet were, like them, singular; i.e., it
 would have words meaning him-or-her, himself-or-herself, his-or-her.
 But, just as French lacks our power of distinguishing (without
 additional words) between his, her, & its, so we lack the French
 power of saying on one word his-or-her. . . . Have the patrons of
 [the popular usage exemplified above] made up their minds yet
 between "Everyone _was_ blowing their noses" and "everyone _were_
 blowing their noses"?
It should be clear that this is not a very new phenomenon. The
solution, to use "they" etc. in indefinite sense for an indefinite
antecedent, has probably been around as long as the problem of a forced
choice in English between he and she, etc., where sex is unspecified. I
take it as an extension of indefinite "they" in e.g. "as lazy as they
come" and "they say global warming may make winters colder."
	Bruce Nevin
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Message 3: RE: yours/you's

Date: Tue, 8 Oct 91 18:55:02 -0700
From: Paul Saka <sakacogsci.Berkeley.EDU>
Subject: RE: yours/you's
	In LING 2.614, And Rosta provides the following sentences
along with the indicated judgments:
 1a Is this book one of yours?
 1b Is this book one of you's?
 2a *This is one of your/our/their book.
 2b This is one of you's/us's/them's book.
 3a *Sophy's picture of your/our/their frame. [not a picture of a frame]
 3b Sophy's picture of you's/us's/them's frame. [not a picture of a frame]
>First question: Who *can* accept (1a)? (And (2a), (3a)?)
For me, (1a) is perfectly good and normal; it is (1b) that sounds bad.
>Second question: How do you analyse & explain them?
In (1), the material that comes after 'book' is a predicate NP; it needs
to have a nominal or pronominal head, and thus the possessive pronoun
works. (Notice:
 This book is mine/*my/*me's.)
In (2, 3), the predicate NPs already have nominal heads ('book', 'frame');
in order to express the notion of possessiveness you need to use a
determiner. (Notice:
 This is my/*mine book.)
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