Yo is relieved of sex

Dennis Baron reports the arrival of a new gender-neutral pronoun, Yo.

What’s that? Well, I’ll let you read his explanation: 

Yo is a gender-neutral pronoun because it’s used both for males and females. As the name implies, gender-neutral pronouns are ones which contain no indication of the gender of their referent. In English, all our first and second person pronouns are gender neutral: I, me, my, mine, we, our, ours, you, your, yours. None of these words says anything about sex. Third-person plural pronouns are gender neutral too: they, their, theirs. Get it?

But for some crazy reason, our third person singular pronouns ooze sex: he is masculine; she is feminine; it is neuter (OK, maybe neuter doesn’t ooze sex, but it can dream, right?).

So, instead of the stylistically messy ‘He/She’ or the awkward ‘They’ to refer to humanity in general, you can say Yo.

As in:

  • Always comfort your child when yo cries. 
  • If a writer wants to avoid sexist writing, yo can.

And what’s the source of this politically correct reference to sex? A study gives the credit to teenagers in Baltimore. 

‘Yo’, as I know it, is American slang, a form of greeting among teenagers.  In fact, a quick survey of dictionaries (OED, Webster and Urban ) reveals the following meanings –

  • a contraction of ‘your’ characteristic of Black English: Here’s yo tea.
  • an exclamation/greeting akin to Hey, or even a response to a call:  Yo! wassup?/ Hey, you there? Yo!  

Although the word picked up currency during WW II when it was a common response at roll calls, it is actually older than that. It’s  a Middle English word, dating back to the 15th century! (‘Awesome’ I can almost hear the teenagers, who think they invented it, say.)

Now, am I going to start using a word in a particular way just because a bunch of teenagers in Baltimore do? Not bloody likely!

It’s not about teenagers; I think they’re a creative lot, always fashioning exciting new words. I’m just wondering whether they’re simply misusing/abusing the word. 

Call me rigid if you will, but a new word has a feel of authenticity to it that this one just doesn’t.  It rings hollow. A new word has to be spanking, squeaking new, not just a distortion of an existing one.

And to be sure there have been earlier attempts to forge gender-neutral pronouns:  ne, ip, thon, E, zie, and hiser. Failed words, all of them. There must be a reason methinks.

Could this be the reason – that as long as there is ‘male’ and there is ‘female’ there will be ‘he’ and ‘she’? That if we cannot think neutrally, our pronouns will not be neutral? 

The limits of my language are the limits of my mind. Wittgenstein.  Yo said it.

Slightly off-topic: A friend wrote in to comment on the attempted anonymity of this blog.  (I declare I’m female but refuse to reveal anything else.) “Feminine mystique” he psychoanalyzes it away, leaving me gasping for breath and frothing at the mouth. So anonymity is gender-specific, too!

If  a man were to hide his identity, he probably has professional reasons for it. But if a woman does, then she’s being a coquette, huh? Why does an anonymous female always inspire sexist notions?


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