FEMINISM has done hella cool shit, as we all know, but it has also created certain problems. The most egregious of these is incorrect use of plural pronouns.*
It has become socially acceptable to use 'they,' 'them,' and 'their' in reference to a hypothetical individual, or an individual of unspecified gender. You might hear, for example, If someone needs assistance they can call this number. The problem, of course, is that 'someone' is singular. It's so freaking singular it has the word 'one' right in it. A 'one' can't be a 'they.'
*Just kidding. Criminalization of gender is the actual most egregious.
APPARENTLY there was a time when masculine pronouns were used by default in such ambiguous situations. This was before lefty synagogues purged words like 'lord,' 'king' and 'father' from the liturgy, before 'flight attendant' trumped 'stewardess,' before 'chairman' became 'chair.' It was a time of darkness and ignorance.
Now we live under the great illumination of equality, and it is good. But political correctness is often an enemy of elegant language. I have never been able to get myself to say 'African American.' It's so cumbersome. Seven times more syllables than 'black.'
For a while the correct thing, pronoun-wise, was 'he or she' or 'he/she.' But yeeek. Talk about inelegant. At least 'they' is one word, without a technocratic slash. Human beings are reasonable creatures; we prefer to speak efficiently. So I find it perfectly understandable that we've collectively turned to the soothing semi-solution 'they.'
BUT AS Jess Day so aptly put it on last night's New Girl, Grammar is important. She said so after noting that Cece's phrase 'my ex-boyfriend and his best friend who I made out with' ought to be 'with whom I made out.' (Cece was not pleased upon correction. It's hard out here for grammarbitches.)
Grammar is important. When we lose language standards we lose a lot. I can't prove why. Just trust me on this.
So do I advocate return to patriarchal pronoun use? No, no. Instead, I offer you this simple trick: pluralize the whole sentence. When you need to refer to an ambiguous person, make it ambiguous people.
Instead of this:
When a person is angry, he/she/they become(s) irrational.
When people are angry, they become irrational.
Pronoun and referent agree! Beautiful.
This works almost every time. You'll be surprised. And if you really have to stay in the singular, go ahead and pick a gender. If a feminist comes after you I'll punch them.