The Compulsive Copyeditor

April 14, 2015

Usage Find of the Day

Filed under: grammar,language degenerating,Usage Find of the Day — amba12 @ 7:59 pm

This is an almost endearing instance of millennial pathos:

You’re at the airport waiting to pass through security and board your flight. The security agent stops the person in line ahead of you: there was a full water bottle in his carry-on bag. He throws out the bottle and proceeds through the airport. Later that evening, you see that person’s face on the news, for having pulled out dynamite on their flight. Why did the TSA agent overlook the dynamite?

The writer has already made a choice to identify the gender of the offender: “he” threw out the water bottle in “his” carry-on bag. Yet the writer still feels obligated to go on and describe something this male person did on “their” flight.

Why??

What was it about this particular “his” that suddenly triggered the writer’s sexism-avoidance reflex when the earlier “he” and “his” did not? Or was it nothing so ideological, simply a belief that the correct third-person possessive is always “their”? But in either case, why didn’t “they” go back and change the other two instances? Whither consistency? Is this profound amnesia for the preceding sentence? Or just a visual culture’s assumption that language is some approximate wet sloppy stuff you throw handfuls of at content? Some generic substance you sell by weight?

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