Alternatives for "it"


#1

The pronouns we use divide us into I/you/we/she/he/they/it, leaning heavily on it for the other-than-human crowd. Inanimism is bullshit, so naturally this bothers a lot of us.

I often default to she in an effort to a) avoid it and b) balance out male-default language. But if you see a garter snake and say, “Look at him! Isn’t he cute?” no one says anything, whereas if you say, “Look at her! Isn’t she cute?” someone is bound to ask how you can tell the snake is female. (Actually I like when that happens because then we can at least talk about this stuff.)

I wonder if anyone is messing around with new ways of approaching, or resisting, pronouns. Any ideas?


#2

This drives me nuts too. We’re currently expecting our second child and since we don’t know the gender, we’ve been using “they”. Of course I get plenty of ‘are you having twins?’ but I’m not going to call my baby “it”. I don’t call animals “it” either, as it feels too much like calling them a thing rather than a living being.

On a side note, I think that if we had a gender neutral pronoun in English people who are transgender would have an easier time getting recognised and accepted as who they are - something in between. Our language forces people to choose a gender to identify themselves as.


#3

Apart from using “she”, I’ve used “this 'un” or “these guys” a lot (though guy has masculine connotations).

Wikipedia has an interesting page on pronouns:

"Historically, there were two gender-neutral pronouns native to English dialects, ou and (h)a.[4] According to Dennis Baron’s Grammar and Gender:[5]

In 1789, William H. Marshall records the existence of a dialectal English epicene pronoun, singular “ou”: “‘Ou will’ expresses either he will, she will, or it will.” Marshall traces “ou” to Middle English epicene “a”, used by the 14th century English writer John of Trevisa, and both the OED and Wright’s English Dialect Dictionary confirm the use of “a” for he, she, it, they, and even I. This “a” is a reduced form of the Anglo-Saxon he = “he” and heo = “she”.

Baron goes on to describe how relics of these sex-neutral terms survive in some British dialects of Modern English (for example hoo for “she”, in Yorkshire), and sometimes a pronoun of one gender might be applied to a person or animal of the opposite gender.

In some West Country dialects, the pronoun er can be used in place of either he or she, although only in weak (unstressed) positions such as in tag questions.[6]"

I think thinking of alternative/creative ways of referring to different beings commonly called “it” can be a rewarding way to recognize animacy–even when using “it”. For example, I often think of cars as “bundles of ghost slaves”. Anyone have any ideas for the following:
Rock
Plant
Computer
Phone


#4

Mindy, do you know about zey/zir? Although it sounds clunky at first and will definitely start some conversations, it has become a somewhat common way for english-speakers to try to use gender-neutral language. Heres a short blog I found about it, im sure there’s better ones out there if you dig a bit: https://genderneutralpronoun.wordpress.com/tag/ze-and-zir/

Also, you can simply refer to “that person” or “that snake,” although that starts to feel a bit clunky and cumbersome after saying it more than twice in a conversation.


#5

thanks for this thought provoking post Mindy,

i also tend to default to “she” for animate beings, and am willing to explain why i do so when someone questions it. i feel like that is an opportunity to share an alternative way of relating with others who may not have considered our conditioned assumptions…

i tend to conceptualize my relationships with other beings as one of “siblings” and when i interact with say, a bird, and am able to determine female or male characteristics, i relate as “brother or sister” (“hello brother” “hello sister”…) if i don’t have the understanding to tell the difference, with say, a snake - i usually revert back to “sister”… there are some exceptions in which i simply “FEEL” the word “brother” or “sister” and i’m not sure what to make of that …

i do find it uncomfortable when “she” is used to describe the sea, a mountain, and so forth - and i’m not sure WHY exactly… i relate to the Earth as feminine (our Mother)… i’ll have to think that one over!!!

one thing that REALLY bugs me though, is when “she” is used to describe inanimate, human created OBJECTS - a car, a boat…that is when i want to use “it”, but i’m starting to see the value in describing those objects in more creative ways too.

any thoughts which might help me understand this subject more fully? :sun_with_face: