The AP stylebook should update its entry on pronouns

With the rise of anti-transgender legislation across the country — in sports, schools, even prisons — it’s no surprise that the same anti-transgender rhetoric exists in journalism, especially when it comes to the appropriate use of pronouns.

In 2017, the Associated Press (AP) Stylebook, a point of reference for journalists on proper grammar usage, updated its policies to add the use of “they/them” pronouns for non-binary individuals. in “limited” circumstances. While some felt the decision was a monumental decision, others felt the AP was not doing enough, especially when it came to using neopronouns such as ze/zir, which has was added to the Oxford Dictionary in 2018. While I think the AP’s decision to allow them as a singular pronoun was a step in the right direction to encompass the spectrum of pronouns, five years later it much remains to be done.

As the Stylebook wrote in its update: “They, them, their In most cases, a plural pronoun must agree in number with the antecedent: children love the books their uncle gave them They/them/their is acceptable in limited cases as a singular and/or gender neutral pronoun, when the alternative phrasing is too clunky or awkward.However, rewording is usually possible and always preferable.Clarity is a top priority; gender-neutral use of a singular is unfamiliar to many readers. We do not use other gender-neutral pronouns such as xe or ze.”

It’s hard to fathom that the Stylebook’s decision was at one point seen as an “embrace” when it was followed by a warning of caution and the blatant rejection of neopronouns. But the war against their use as a singular pronoun has existed long before recent conversations about non-binary and transgender individuals and dates back to the 1800s. Until then, they as a singular pronoun were used throughout literature, including in works of William Shakespeare and Emily Dickinson. Dickinson even wrote in a letter: “Almost anyone, under the circumstances, would have doubted that [the letter] were theirs, or whether they were themselves.

But English grammarians objected to the use of pronouns and created the error that exists today that they have always been plural, even though there is evidence to the contrary. While other cultures like Bengali or Chinese have genderless language, others like English, French, and Spanish use gendered language. In light of the increased attention given to those whose pronouns exist outside the binary, France, for example, chose to use genderless terms, although backlash followed even after their dictionary added non-binary pronouns.

Adding more pronouns comes down to a conversation about language – expanding how we connect with others and with ourselves. Limiting gender to the base of male and female—through a religious lens via Adam and Eve—begs the question: why does language often stem from religion?

Buttons with the pronouns “they, them, their” are displayed.
Gabe Ginsberg/Getty Images

“We don’t want, among our own staff, to open a floodgate,” Paula Froke of The Associated Press said at the 2017 initial conference on the AP Stylebook’s update on pronouns. She added: “Many don’t understand that they can be used for a singular person.”

While Froke was correct that the use of pronouns was not yet established in American culture in 2017, years later the conversation has evolved. On social media, usernames are followed by his pronouns and emails are signed with his name and pronouns. Nowadays, on the first day of class, students share their names, hobbies and pronouns; movies and TV shows for young children all the way up to adults feature the diversity of pronouns and gender identities. Even my 80-year-old Greek grandparents are aware of the myriad of pronouns meant to encompass a person’s identity.

The concept of pronoun acceptability no longer boils down to a person’s ability to ignore the use of pronouns beyond him and her, but ultimately to their ability to demonstrate respect and validation towards identity. from others. Rather than respond to the AP Stylebook’s vapid, frankly offensive note of preferring the use of one’s name instead of one’s pronouns to make others feel comfortable with a story, journalists need to take a stand on the issue to protect the institution of journalism.

The problem of correctly using one’s correct pronouns is a direct attack not only on one’s identity, but also on the mission of journalism – ethical journalism – to share the palpable voices of people from diverse backgrounds and experiences. If we as journalists want to be part of a system that shares the stories of others, then we must not only actively fight to ensure that our story is protected, but also our pronouns. The AP Stylebook should be a real information guide for journalists that reflects the facets of our world, a world that exists beyond him, her and the “limited” use they make of it.

Since the AP is unable to respect other people’s pronouns, perhaps they should take a page from the American Psychological Association (APA) style guide, used for scholarly writing, which allows the use of pronouns outside the binary. Or, the AP Stylebook should adapt and acknowledge the work of historical writers and realize the clear history and evolution of language.

Costa B. Pappas is a New York-based writer and editor specializing in arts and culture. His work has been featured in The Observer, teen vogue, Fiction Writers Review, Business Intern and Newsweek. He is a graduate of American University and a member of the National Book Critics Circle. You’ll find him writing in Manhattan hotel lobbies over an iced coffee or on Twitter. @CostaBPappas.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.


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