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Thoughts On Grammar and Gender

I came across your editorial “An Editor Changes Their Mind about They” (CEP, Feb. 2016, p. 3). I can say that I read it with great pleasure.

Though I already use “they” now and then (on the strength of such classic authors as quoted on the American Dialect Society [ADS] site), I avoid “hopefully” (unless in its original context such as “it is better to travel hopefully than to arrive”), as well as “sadly” when “regrettably” is meant. I wonder if the dubious use of “hopefully” is derived from the German “hoffentlich,” which has exactly and only the meaning of “as one hopes.”

Decades ago, the late Dr. Robert Schoenfeld, editor of the Australian Journal of Chemistry, wrote an enjoyable book called “The Chemist’s English.” Its principles apply to other fields as well.

Some thoughts on gender issues:

English is different from many European languages (those that I know about) in that most nouns are possible for both: waitress/waiter and lord/lady are clear, but the cook as well as the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick-maker may be male or female. So if you first came across “German Chancellor Merkel” you would have had one less bit of information than Germans reading about “die deutsche Kanzlerin Merkel.”

In his article “The Awful German Language,” Mark Twain criticized that das Mädchen (the girl — Twain’s translation “maiden” is not wrong, but not quite...

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