From the Grammarphobia blog.
Q: In a recent radio appearance, you said the idea that “he” can refer to any human being – man or woman – was introduced in the 18th century by a female grammarian. I think you’re wrong. The concept of male as universal has been around much longer.
A: If by “male as universal,” you mean using male pronouns (“he,” “him,” and “his”) for women as well as men, the idea did indeed begin in the 18th century.
Before then – for two centuries, in fact – it was considered acceptable to use “they,” “them,” and “their” as singular or plural pronouns for either men or women.
Anne Fisher, the first woman to write an English grammar, was also the first grammarian to suggest that the pronoun “he” be used generically for either sex.
In the mid-18th century, she proposed that “he” be a sex-neutral, third-person singular in cases where gender was indefinite. For example, on second reference to “someone,” “anyone,” and so on, as in “Does anyone think he knows the answer?”
There’s no surviving copy of the first edition of Fisher’s book, A New Grammar With Exercises of Bad English, but it was advertised for sale in 1745. It was followed in 1750 by a second edition (which we do have), and 30 more editions came later, making the book one of the most popular guides of its time.
One reason her book is so important historically (there are other reasons, too) is its suggestion that “he” and company be used as a blanket term for both sexes.
“The Masculine Person,” Fisher wrote, “answers to the general Name, which comprehends both Male and Female; as, any Person who knows what he says.” [continue]
This is interesting. Today's military uses he/she, which sounds terrible.
I bet it does. I hate it when people go out of their way to use the he/she his/her pronouns repetitively. I must admit that I even find the simple generic use of she/her to be odd, but perhaps because I was raised on he/his.
I prefer the previously accepted method using they,” “them,” and “their” as singular or plural pronouns for either men or women, but use he/his for grammatical correctness. English needs adopt a word from another language that means heshe, hishers is even worse.
It's interesting how that vacillated and how new he/his is. Them and their is used in everyday language.
Political correctness at it's worst.
I told my brother that the name 'squaw fish' was being changed to Northern Pike Minnow because Squaw Fish was a derogatory term meaning Indian whore. He said so what if the G/D fish is called an Indian whore fish.
I don't see anything wrong with using they/their as a singular pronoun, but she says that grammarians don't like it.
All attempts to great a singular genderless pronoun have failed, including thon, ne, heer, and ha.
In all the languages available one must have (use) a singular genderless pronoun. I wonder if lack of the ability of most American's to speak multiple languages makes it more difficult to incorporate foreign words into the English language.
Not at all. About 1/3 (I believe) of our words are of French origin. Many of them retain the original or similar pronunciation, such as rapport, deja vu, ennui, etc., but many of them have been Anglicized.
English borrows a great many words: Algebra, alcohol, etc., are Arabic in origin. Banjo, corral, ranch are Spanish in origin.
I understand that fact. Maybe I should have said minor languages.
Not to mention "bistro" from Russian meaning fast. "Gley" from Ukrainian which is a soil type.
I'm glad to learn this. In french we don't have that problem. In the future I'll only use a <he> ...
My favorite counterexample for "he", "his", "man", etc. as generic and genderless, learned from a college buddy:
"Man being a mammal breastfeeds his young."
I understand Chinese doesn't have gendered pronouns.