May 23, 2022

"I am really curious about this pronoun business in business communication. Who decided that the new law of the land is that everybody gets to pick their pronouns..."

"... however misaligned they may be to their publicly visibly persona, and everybody else needs to learn this and memorize? Who has time for this?"

That's a comment in response to the second question in the business advice column in the NYT. It's the most-liked comment that deals with that letter, which is about a workplace where it's an option to list your pronoun preference alongside your email signature.

One person in the place added pronouns other than the traditional he/she, but no one picked up the cue and started using those pronouns when talking about this person. The letter-writer, a supervisor, wanted to know how to "fix this situation." Nobody was acting disrespectful. They were just all failing to proactively use "they/them" (or whatever the preference was).

I'll skip the columnist's answer. You can probably guess what a NYT columnist's answer would be. What I think is notable is that a NYT reader made such a flat-footedly sensible, out-of-it comment and that so many readers up-voted it.

53 comments:

Anthony said...

I personally identify as 6'2"-240.

-- Anthony (Lord/Sir)

Dave Begley said...

I put beep, bop, boop on my LinkedIn profile.

Ridicule is one of man's most powerful weapons.

Carol said...

What gets me is informal conversation where someone insists on using "they" for an individual of known uncontested gender.

So the writing is full of theys and thems of often faulty reference, to where you can't follow the issue at all and have ask Who is "they??"

Enigma said...

NYT 2022 = Jordan Peterson's objection to compelled speech for gender pronouns on October 11, 2016?

Peterson went viral with this, and then went on Joe Rogan to become super viral.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HAlPjMiaKdw


This was the start of the mainstream wokeness era. Is NYT signifying the end?

tim maguire said...

My office does that—pronouns in the email signature. Most people don’t bother. There are a handful of she/her’s, I haven’t noticed any he/him’s, and because, like virtually all offices, there are no trans people, there are no they/them’s. I think it’s unprofessional and I think our CEO, however capable he may be in other ways, is a bit of an idiot when it comes to pandering to activist causes.

That said, I also think it’s harmless. You never use a person’s pronoun in an email to them and nobody remembers people’s pronouns if they’re not looking at the email signature, so nobody would notice if someone used the wrong pronoun. It never comes up as an issue. It’s just an empty gesture.

Readering said...

I am glad I'll be retired before I'm required to do this in the office. But if the company sets a policy, for whatever reason, it should see to it that it's enforced. Where I work it's an age thing. Students do it, and they seem to carry over when they start work. But no policy.

Yancey Ward said...

Of course it is a sensible comment, and it gets upvoted by NYTimes readers because they are doing so anonymously. Put them in a room, though, and they will all tear the comment apart for being hate speech.

Readering said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lem said...

To say that you agree with the pronoun choice is one thing, to have it fully deployed in your head, ready for instantaneous recall is quite another. I messed up every time I had to say bye to a co-worker friend who had the operation and name change. I kept saying “ok man”. And only realizing the mistake after the words had left my mouth.

Pianoman said...

Last week I played for auditions at a regional musical theater company. The list of auditionees included information like preferred roles, union membership .... and preferred pronouns.

Thankfully, the people running the audition didn't enforce pronoun use. But just the fact that this is a "thing" now in a theater production doesn't bode well at all.

Casting a show is an important process for ensuring a successful production. Allowing Woke politics to infect a production is a surefire recipe for disaster.

To their credit, the production staff didn't allow personal pronoun choice to derail the process. It hasn't reached that point ... YET.

n.n said...

A great reveal? Do you congratulate a woman exhibiting the visible attributes of pregnancy or not? Staff meeting.

Pianoman said...

Just checked to see whether my company has put pronouns into my sig, and the answer is (thankfully) no.

There are definitely some HR people here who give lip service to pronoun-challenged people, but it's never made its way into a "business process".

Randomizer said...

Does it feel like we reached peak wackiness some months ago? It seems like "Xim/Xir" or the other invented pronouns never got traction. The fluid genders, where a person can change gender on a whim, seems to have faded. The swimmer, Lia Thomson, seemed to irritate many people, and recently, Lillian Gallagher, born male, won a Redbull skateboarding competition. People involved are openly calling BS on the policy.

Like everyone, I'm in a bubble. That is a reason I come here. Ann follows media that I don't, so I get a different perspective. Lately, it seems like much of the craziness is being walked back.

This morning, on the local news, I heard that 20 people were arrested for driving ATV's down city streets, 15 were charged with felonies. The wildlings have been tearing around urban streets for years on stolen dirtbikes and ATV's. My city never got as bad as some, but I don't think that BLM or Occupy is currently squatting anywhere or burning anything down. Finally, our police acted.

Perhaps life was getting too easy, so we needed some drama. Tearing down civilization was engaging, then we went through Covid, and found that we liked the amenities. A run on toilet paper was exciting, but if parents can't feed their babies, the supply chain problems are getting serious.

Jefferson's Revenge said...

Maybe it's wishful thinking but like Prof A, the NYT is the last place I would expect to see this topic along with the volume of generally positive responses, though I am not beyond the paywall. Maybe I am being overly optimistic but in both my personal and business lives, I am seeing polite but forceful pushback on a lot of cultural things that were once considered sacred. Maybe the VA elections and the window it opened up into the educational clerisy started it among parents. The Joe Rogan kerfuffle opened the thinking door to his audience and Musk and Twitter reinforced that. Even the BLM scam is starting to become visible to the public. If the tide is slowly turning, that would explain some of the desperation we are seeking in the establishment now- disinformation board being one very good example. I also know our local officials here would love to mandate masks again but I think they are afraid to do so because that would be massively ignored. They seem content to recommend and not require.

CalReader said...

I work for a company that requires preferred pronouns as part of its email signature block. My first name is relatively uncommon outside of Europe, and in my decades of correspondence with Asian attorneys and businesspeople they, without exception, refer to me as Mr., even though I am obviously female. With pronouns in the signature block, there is no excuse for lazy businesspeople to be incorrect in how they communicate with me. These added clues are extremely helpful.

Amexpat said...

I have no problem for a pronoun for those who are non binary. The problem I have is with using "They" and "Them" for that purpose. Every time I hear it I think of the Abbot and Costello "who's on First" routine. New words introduced into a language should make things clearer, not more confusing.

WK said...

You can pick your friends and you can pick your pronouns. But you can’t pick your friend’s pronouns.

Sebastian said...

"What I think is notable is that a NYT reader made such a flat-footedly sensible, out-of-it comment and that so many readers up-voted it."

(Apologies to the Althouse cliché filter:) Transgenderism is the Achilles heel of wokeness.

Amexpat said...


I recently got some emails from a mainstream US company I do some business with. All the employers are now telling me their pronouns. That strikes me wrong for two reasons. One it's none of my business and two it's not really relevant. My communication with these employees are not in the 3rd person. I either use their name or you.

wendybar said...

It's stupid. It is another progressive idea of putting people in boxes. It is NOT sexual harassment to NOT call somebody by their CHOSEN pronoun, when it is NOT normal. But that is what is happening today in a Progressive school in Wisconsin. It is ridiculous, and we should point and laugh at everybody who tries to enforce this stupid idea.

Freeman Hunt said...

I'm surprised at how riled people in the comments are by the guy with the cross and the picture where he's holding a gun. I didn't know the workplace had gotten quite so babyish.

Lurker21 said...

"America: Love it or Leave it" was met with the response "America: Change it or Lose it." Both had all the faults bumpersticker slogans usually have, but why isn't there a "gender patriotism" out there, a feeling that one might not conform to traditional ideas of femininity or masculinity, but that one is nevertheless female or male and damn proud of it?

Left Bank of the Charles said...

There is something aristocratic about having preferred pronouns for others to use when referring to you. It’s like being announced by your title when you enter a room. How did that work? Did you have little cards made up in advance to hand to the footman? Did you just whisper your name and title in the footman’s ear? Or was the footman just supposed to know?

Business correspondence does have its special rules and cul-de-sacs. Back in my days of working in a law office, you had to know whether someone was a Ms. or a Mrs. Address the intra-office memo wrong, and you could expect a dressing down. For correspondence, you were also supposed to know if someone was an “Esq.” And there was “ Messrs.” for which there has been no occasion to use before or since.

If the preferred pronouns are being supplied in the email signature block, then at least you don’t have to memorize them, you can just refer to the signature block if you need to pick the appropriate pronoun when responding to or forwarding the email. In the letter writer’s place of work, I guess some people weren’t doing that, but that makes me curious as to the context. These are the pronouns you use when talking about a person behind the person’s back, not when talking to the person. How often does one need to use pronouns to do that? I can see how it might come up in a classroom where a teacher or student wants to refer to something another person said, but doesn’t know or remember the person’s name. But instead of saying, “her argument doesn’t hold water,” you can say “that argument doesn’t hold water.”

In my work experience, the need for using pronouns to refer to coworkers does not come up in practice, which makes me wonder if the people “not picking up the cue” were doing that intentionally. As a supervisor, you should tell people doing that to knock if off, ideally on a one-on-one basis. Or were they using the person’s name in places where they could have used a pronoun? In that case, the supervisor needs to lighten up.

Michael said...

The worm, they turn.

stlcdr said...

If a person is not around to hear their (sic) pronouns, does it really matter?

Wa St Blogger said...

According to Schoolhouse rock, pronouns are great ways to uncomplicate communication. Custom pronouns completely destroy the value of pronouns. I recommend we strike them all and go back to referring to people by name only. "Yesterday I was talking to Patty Lovelace, John Smith, and Glenda Jones, and Harry Doyle, and Patty Lovelace, John Smith, and Glenda Jones, and Harry Doyle all agreed that Myself and Patty Lovelace, John Smith, and Glenda Jones, and Harry Doyle would prefer no longer to use pronouns."

Michael said...

The columnist’s answer was indeed what one would expect from a writer at the NYT who would doubtless be removed from his post if he counseled otherwise. Nauseating. What can we expect when college administrators are guided by the deep thoughts of nineteen year olds. I would never stoop to further debasing the language by addressing someone with these stupid and inapt pronouns. Get upset (not triggered)if you must. And so the debasement of our language continues. Niggardly is out, disinformation (as creepy a term as ever brought into common usage) is in. And so it goes as said Vonnegut.

John henry said...

Back in the 70s to 90s when I actually wrote business letters, I sometimes didn't know the person I was sending them to. "The Marketing Department" for example. Or I didn't know the first name T. Smith. Or the first name was ambiguous.

In other words, I didn't know whether to say dear sir or dear madam. I'd often play the odds and justsay Dear Sir.

One of my clients showed me a trick. If you don't know, use "Good Morning!" as the salutation. He recommended the capital M and the exclamation point. The exclamation supposedly triggers a bit of happiness.

John LGKTQ Henry

Jupiter said...

"Nobody was acting disrespectful."

Don't you mean, "No one was acting disrespectfully"?

But yes, someone was. The braindead supervisory letter-writer. Always assuming this person actually exists, a long shot at best. In any case, I expect that any day now, Microsoft will release their new version of Outlook that "allows us" (= requires us) to select some pronouns when writing a letter.

Actually, where I currently work, there are large numbers of people I have to deal with regularly that I have never met, are not even on the same continent as I am, and have names that may well indicate gender where they live, but not where I am. It might be helpful to have spellcheck handle them, until I can pick up some clues from a Teams meeting. At least it would give me an excuse.

Balfegor said...

everybody else needs to learn this and memorize?

The sort of person who is going to insist on unusual or counterintuitive pronouns is also generally the kind of person to include that in their sig file in every single email communication, on any internal or external company profile, and really anywhere it can be shoehorned in. Very little memorisation is likelycto be required.

That said, you can use whatever pronouns you like with me. Sir or Mr. is correct as a matter of biological sex, but thanks to my somewhat gender-ambiguous first name, I've been addressed as Ma'am, Miss and Mrs. enough to be used to it, and take no offense (although I find it amusing). Also, I am not a total maniac, at least not about this stuff.

Yeah Right Sure said...

Not quite to retirement readiness just yet, but as soon as I am and can laugh at the HR goons sent to dispatch with me, my pronoun will be "his or her most majestic royal highness." I will demand it be said without the slightest smirk and then watch the millennial's heads explode as the FINALLY understand the absurdity of their religious quest.

Gravel said...

I refuse to play the game. If you are a male who makes reasonable attempts to present as a female, I'll humor you out of politeness. But I won't refer to a man with a beard as a woman, and I absolutely unequivocally will not use plural pronouns to refer to an individual.

pious agnostic said...

I am a member of a writing community where some members have (or use) they/them, etc., pronouns, which I find difficult to use for several reasons, not least because I am a stickler for grammar.

I do not wish to be disrespectful or unfriendly, as these are people I have had a collegial and friendly relationship with for many years.

But I find myself interacting with those with neo-pronouns, and using circumlocutions, or simple using their (preferred) names in sentences when I would heretofore used a pronoun.

It's troublesome.

Owen said...

“Who has time for this?” Bingo. Never mind the pathetic narcissism inherent in this Whimsical Name Game, just think about the time and effort it demands of every interlocutor (but only every single one), with every person with whom he or she exchanges words (or of whom or to whom he or she may refer in oral or written form) all day long, in every context —and Heaven help you if you ever get it wrong through ignorance, poor hearing or forgetfulness. You will be charged with hate crimes and investigated with zeal that would leave Lavrenti Beria green with envy.

All this effort devoted NOT to the substance of the conversation, but to a detail of its form: attention and energy devoted to mincing around like a protocol-obsessed courtier trying to guess at what might give the least offense.

We use pronouns as efficient pointers in constructing our messages: essentially invisible. When they become a drag on the message or an affirmative source of confusion and second-guessing, they are worse than useless. Anybody who claims not to understand this, or who fails to see what bullying BS the pronoun game has become, needs to be laughed out of the room.

Harsh Pencil said...

This is why we need a movement for personalized second person pronouns. I am going to insist on Elizabethan pronouns when people talk to me. "Does thou wish to join us for lunch?" "Can I instead pick up some lunch for thee?" "Is that sandwich in the fridge thine?" "Is that thy car?"

Yes, it may take some study on everyone else's part to learn how to do this correctly, but that is the least everyone else can do for me since I identify as Elizabethan.

Ann Althouse said...

"I'm surprised at how riled people in the comments are by the guy with the cross and the picture where he's holding a gun. I didn't know the workplace had gotten quite so babyish."

Ha ha.

I was going to blog that but I just couldn't picture it. The letter-writer called it a "large cross."

*How* large?

Large enough to crucify a man? A cat? A frog? A cicada?

campy said...

A large cross the size of a small cross?

PigHelmet said...

Edmund O’Brien on “they.” Pronoun lesson starts at about 45 seconds.

https://youtu.be/Qtw4y6A31i0

RMc said...

"Who decided that the new law of the land is that everybody gets to pick their pronouns however misaligned they may be to their publicly visibly persona, and everybody else needs to learn this and memorize?

The crazy people who now run the world, that's who.

Oh, and you're cancelled, bigot.

farmgirl said...

Reading a news report on a missing hiker- this young person, traveling alone, was referred to as “they/them” throughout the entire broadcast.

I had to reread it to puzzle out who, exactly, was missing. It is no help to look for a group of people when one lost, confused 20something needs help.

It’s f/led up- is what it is.
Very sad and selfish behavior.

Ann Althouse said...

@campy

LOL

ALP said...

My employer (BigLaw) encourages this type of thing in our signature line. I have my name, title, our firm's mailing address and phone number. Period.

The number of times I've had a client ask for our mailing address - numerous. It's right at the end of my emails!!!! NOBODY looks at your fucking signature line!

Ann Althouse said...

"I'm surprised at how riled people in the comments are by the guy with the cross and the picture where he's holding a gun. I didn't know the workplace had gotten quite so babyish."

I was going to blog that but I just couldn't picture it. The letter-writer called it a "large cross."

*How* large?

Large enough to crucify a man? A cat? A frog? A cicada?

bentoak said...

I like the singular they. It's useful. Not sure how I feel yet about people introducing themselves by name and pronouns, which I've seen a few times. I suppose it is helpful to some people. It's just that things that are optional eventually become mandatory.

Art in LA said...

Is it OK to just call folks by their name, first or last?

"I was referring to Althouse. What do you think Ann wants to do next?"

PM said...

a e i o u and sometimes y
5 x 0 = 0
he she it

Jamie said...

With pronouns in the signature block, there is no excuse for lazy businesspeople to be incorrect in how they communicate with me. These added clues are extremely helpful.

My experience, as a woman with a traditionally more-often-male first name, has been different. Yes, people have mistakenly addressed me as Mr. before meeting me in person. And when they do, I say gently, "It's Ms." (because I think Ms. ought to have replaced Mrs. in the world of work LONG ago - save Mrs. for social life, and assume that all people in the workplace are off limits romantically unless and until you get to know them well enough to know their marital status) and move on. No big deal. Sometimes they've apologized, obviously embarrassed, and I laugh and assure them it's truly no problem - and let's get to work.

Then we had the interesting phenomenon that I was such an active volunteer at our church that everyone was addressing my much less visible husband as Mr. [my last name] (we have different last names, if that wasn't evident). He was never put out by it; he'd either go along with it if the person was unlikely to remember his actual last name, or correct the person with gentle humor and a quick explanation.

And then there's the fact that he proposed that we give any boys we had his last name and any girls we had mine, which we have done. Hilarity ensued. Periodically we ask the (now grown) kids how they feel about it; they're all fine with it and like their last names.

farmgirl said...

I was divorced when my kids were little and took my maiden name back- which I do love.
The kids all called me Mrs (ex’s last name, like my kids). I never corrected them- and was never offended b/c normally, that’s how it goes up here. I was the one outside the lines. I always knew who they were talking to.

Be best.

UDee said...

They/Them=Plural...I spent a career teaching subject/verb agreement to middle schoolers.

Nancy said...

Suggestion for John Henry:

"Dear Sir or Madman:"

Lucien said...

I think people are entitled to change their names: I don't call Muhammad Ali Cassius Clay, or Kareem Abdul Jabbar Lew Alcindor, or the Democratic Party the Democrat Party -- so I've got no trouble with Caitlin Jenner's name (for example). I just don't really believe that Caitlin Jenner is a woman (ditto Rachel Levine). Perfectly nice people (for all I know), but mistaken.

Jason said...

I read a good ways down the comment thread.

The number of liberals who are out-and-out insane fucking religious bigots who want to drive even modest expressions of Christian faith out of the workplace entirely, Civil Rights Act and state anti-discrimination laws be damned - and feel entirely self-justified in doing so - was shocking.

Well, not really, if you understand these harpies.

Liberals are constantly projecting their own insane, vile bigotry and prejudice on normal people.

Aggie said...

America's population is full of deference, and the self-chosen few are banking heavily on its continuation in perpetuity.

The truth is, none of us care about your pronouns. Your pronouns are your business, and you're not important enough to make it ours. Pronouns? I don't know what yours are, but I can see by your insistence that you identify as an assh*le.