iStock
iStock

Another Major Style Guide Has Accepted Singular ‘They’

iStock
iStock

Singular they, or the use of the pronoun they to refer to one person, has been around for centuries. Both Chaucer and Shakespeare used it. It’s in the King James Bible. But since the early days of English grammar textbooks in the 19th century, it has been considered a mistake. For over 100 years, students have been urged to re-write sentences like “Everyone has their own ideas” with a singular pronoun: “Everyone has his own ideas.”

The problem with that fix is that it necessitates a decision on gender. What if you don’t have a specific person in mind? What if you don’t know the gender of the person you’re talking about? What if the person doesn't prefer a specific gender? The solution to that problem was for a long time the clunky “Everyone has his or her own ideas,” or changing the subject to a plural, as in “People have their own ideas.” In regular speech and informal writing, the singular they rolled on, becoming common enough that even the sharpest-eyed editors sometimes failed to catch it before print.

In 2015, The Washington Post became the first major publication to drop the prohibition on singular they from its official style guide. Now the Associated Press has done the same, albeit “in limited cases … when alternative wording is overly awkward or clumsy.”

While the "Everyone has their own ideas" sort of singular they is commonly used for reference to a non-specific person of unknown gender, the AP guide also deals with the use of they as a pronoun for a specific person who chooses not to identify as male or female. In that case, the direction is to “use the person’s name in place of a pronoun, or otherwise reword the sentence, whenever possible. If they/them/their use is essential, explain in the text that the person prefers a gender-neutral pronoun.”

As always, “clarity is a top priority.” That’s the most important rule for any good style guide and for any good writing. A change to a style guide isn’t a change to the language, but a relaxing of a restriction in places that made clarity a little harder to achieve.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
Why Do Americans Call It ‘Soccer’ Instead of ‘Football’?
iStock
iStock

While more Americans than ever are embracing soccer, they can't even get the sport's name right, according to some purists. For most of the world, including the vast majority of Europe and South America, it’s football, fútbol, or some other variation. In the United States, Canada, Japan, and a few other stragglers, it’s firmly known as soccer, much to the annoyance of those who can't understand how a sport played with feet and a ball can be called anything else. So why the conflict?

According to a paper [PDF] by University of Michigan professor Stefan Szymanski, it all began in England in the early 1800s, when a version of the sport of football—based on a game played by “common people” in the Middle Ages—found its way into the recreational scene of some of the country’s most privileged schools. To give uniformity to the competitions between these schools and clubs, a set of standard rules was drafted by students in Cambridge in 1848. These rules would become further solidified when they were adopted by the more organized Football Association in 1863.

It wasn't long before variations of the sport began to splinter off—in 1871, the Rugby Football Union was founded, using Rugby School rules from the 1830s that allowed a player to run with the ball in their hands. This new take on the sport would be known as rugby football, or rugger, to separate itself from association football, the traditional feet-only version of the sport. From there, association football would get the nickname assoccer, leading eventually to just soccer. The addition of an "er" at the end of a word was something of a trend at the time, which is why we get the awkward transformation of association into assoccer and soccer.

The first recorded American football game was between the colleges of Rutgers and Princeton in 1869 and used unique rules derived from those in both association and rugby football. Though this new, evolving game would just be called football in the U.S., elsewhere it would become known as gridiron football or American football, much in the way Gaelic football and Australian football have their own distinctions. Eventually in England, rugby football was shortened to just rugby, while association football simply became known as football. Which meant that now there were two footballs, on opposite sides of the Atlantic, and neither side would budge. And Americans would begin referring to England's football by the previous nickname, soccer.

Despite the confusion nowadays, soccer was still a colloquial term used in England well into the 20th century—it rose in popularity following World War II before falling out of favor in the 1970s and ‘80s, according to Szymanski. In more recent years, it’s mostly been used in England in a strictly American context, like when publications and the media refer to U.S. leagues like Major League Soccer (MLS). Currently, soccer is mostly used in countries that have their own competing version of football—including the United States, Canada, and Australia.

While it boils the blood of certain traditionalists, soccer is by no means an Americanism—like the sport itself, this is purely an English export.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
YouTube, Hélio Surdos
How a Deaf-Blind Person Watches the World Cup
YouTube, Hélio Surdos
YouTube, Hélio Surdos

Brazilian Sign Language interpreter Hélio Fonseca de Araújo woke up on the day before the opening of the World Cup in 2014 thinking about how he could help his friend Carlos, who is deaf and blind, get access to all the excitement. So he hit the hardware store, rigged up a tabletop model of the field, and enlisted his friend Regiane to provide extra interpretation for all the complex information that needs to come through in a game. He recently brought the setup out again for this World Cup.

Here you can see Carlos watching the Brazil vs. Croatia match live, while Hélio provides Brazilian Sign Language interpretation (which Carlos follows by feeling it with his own hands—this is called tactile signing), and Regiane relays information about fouls, cards, times, and player jersey numbers with social-haptic communication on Carlos’s back.

This is the moment in the second half when it appeared that Brazil had scored a goal, but a foul was called. Hélio later makes sure Carlos can see how Neymar covered his face with his shirt.

And here is Coutinho’s game-turning goal for Brazil.

If you're wondering why Carlos occasionally looks at the screen, many deaf blind people have some residual sight (or hearing). Many deaf-blind people become fluent in sign language as deaf people, before they begin to lose their sight.

See the entire video at Hélio’s YouTube channel here.

A version of this story ran in 2014.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios