Bob vs. English
Bust Bob's Chops

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© 1999 Brian F. Schreurs
Even we have a disclaimer.

On June 9, 1999, Bob Levey said:

"'Herm' is a blend of 'her' and 'him.' It doesn't offend all the hers... It's a brand-new word for an age-old problem. It works in a gender-free, misunderstanding-free way."

Ah yes, the misery that happens when political correctness and the English language clash. The minefields we must cross. The faux pas we must dodge.

It is all so vexing. It keeps feminist English majors up at night. It keeps... well, let's face it, they're the main ones bothered by The Situation.

The Situation is when the object of a sentence is a single person, but the gender of the person is not known. What to do? What to do?

The textbook solution is to use the masculine gender: "To hell with him."

However, and this is where the PC element comes in to screw everything up, some people hear that sentence and feel that women have been excluded in being encouraged to go to hell. Again, there is a textbook solution for this: "To hell with him or her."

But that sounds unwieldly and contrived (which it is, on both counts).

Those most qualified to decide, the people who use the language, already have a solution for this problem. English speakers have appropriated the similar word "them" for all circumstances: "To hell with them." Often abbreviated further: "To hell with 'em."

What has happened here? The word "them," once solely used to indicate more than one person of any gender, can now also be used in any situation with ambiguous gender.

But the linguists can't have that. Oh no. That breaks the rules, and as we all know English is a very exacting language with tons of clear-cut rules. No, the linguists need a new word.


No, I was not clearing my throat. This is the proposed new word to solve our little linguistic gender anxiety. Apparently the linguists would like us to stop whatever we are doing in order to include this marvel of compromise in our everyday dialogue. We will reteach the next generation so that, even if the current morons never get it "right," our children will have learned "proper" English. Hahaha! Psyche.

What the textbook grammarians seem to forget is that language evolves. As rates of communication become faster, language evolves faster as well. This can be exhibited in the documented reduction of English accents in North America. Though there are still plenty of accents, they are fading.

But language evolution isn't just in pronounciation; it's in usage as well (when's the last time anyone asked you, "Wherefore art thou sad?"). This is an excellent example of language morph and the people who should be most excited by it, the linguists, appear to be most appalled. They could be studying it, learning from it, getting tenure because of their theories on it. Instead they are banging their cute little grammar books and we, the users of English, humor them, agree that they are absolutely right, and continue to blithely "butcher" the language. Because when it comes down to it, it's our language, and we can do with it as we please.

Sad really. But if they're going to get their panties in a wad over a natural pheonomenon beyond their control, well, to hell with them.