17 Comments
Mar 2, 2023Liked by David B. Williams

A timely post David, as more humans push for a gender-neutral pronoun. In fact, I pay a dollar every time I slip up and call my friend "she" instead of "they". (But in fairness, that young friend has paid me a dollar when they say anything vaguely ageist.) I will add that "it" feels like a dismissive slap when you are talking about a living creature.

Expand full comment
Mar 2, 2023Liked by David B. Williams

This change recognizing animals are not things can go beyond pronouns. Officially, humans "lie" down for a nap. But you "lay" a book down on the table. When I was teaching, I always used the verb lie for animals. Students would challenge that use. I'd always ask if they had a pet, or had ever loved an animal. Then I'd ask did that animal have more in common with their family members, or more in common with a log in the fireplace? They always agreed with the use of "lie".

Expand full comment
Mar 2, 2023Liked by David B. Williams

Not only does our language lack the nuanced descriptors of sex but maybe, just maybe, there are sexes beyond our limited understanding of female & male. Thanks for starting a conversation!

Expand full comment
Mar 2, 2023Liked by David B. Williams

As one who has been on the receiving end of David's reminders of proper pronoun use for critters, this little essay helped me understand his thinking and his example of Tahlequah is especially poignant. The essay also led me to reflect on the shifting use of pronouns for fellow humans and my frustrations with 'they' and 'them'. A new strong non-binary pronoun I think will help many of us who see 'they or them' as a collective as opposed to a singular person.

Expand full comment
Mar 2, 2023Liked by David B. Williams

I see the importance of this point play out every day in my job. As an animal educator, I regularly show students a collection of animals that are “classically unfavorable”--snakes, bugs, tarantulas. After students learn about the animals, they have a chance to hold them.

In a matter of mere minutes, I have seen a student go from “Nope, I don’t like snakes.” to “Can I please hold Candy Corn again? She’s so cute!”...and all it took was introducing her. Pronouns, and names, are so important for us to relate to animals and see past our fears and objectification of them.

Expand full comment
Mar 2, 2023Liked by David B. Williams

Thank you, David, for clarifying an issue that has always been in the back of my my mind. Now, it will always be toward the front. Related to this is the double standard by which we avoid the use of “it” when talking about our pets but not for other animals.

Expand full comment

they

as a replacement for he/she

when that distinction is not apparent (for animals human and otherwise)

as well as a replacement for itifying a fellow critter

doesn’t seem like that difficult of a brain retraining exercise.

Expand full comment

A Different Approach:

David,

I really liked what you have written here. I read Braiding Sweetgrass a while back, and that unpeeling of our linguistic requirement to de-animate nature got stuck in my head.

I agree with your concern and your questions about how to address this issue, how to change/augment our pronouns. Robin Kimmerer in the Orion article suggested adding another pronoun: “ki” to apply to apply to animate beings/objects, even the wind.

It occurred to me that there is another possible approach that would result in similar equity for nature, but take people down a peg from their pedestal: re-define “it” to include everything, even people. That way, when I referred to a snail as “it” it would not be disregarding its life, it would have pronoun equity with people. I suggested that idea to my friend, and it said, “I don’t have a problem with that. But should there be a pronoun distinction between snails and rocks? between buildings and builders? between fishers and fishing hooks? Maybe not.”

It’s not clear what purpose that distinction would serve, since one can always disambiguate the conversation by inserting appropriate nouns.

OK, there’s just another idea from outside the box. But it actually does reflect what we, at Salish Magazine, are trying to do: to fill in a gap in the media by focusing on nature and not so much on people.

Expand full comment

When saw this I could not stop thinking about how in my quest to learn Spanish I now think more in masculine/feminine terms. Many of you know that in that language most everything is either male or female. They also treat their pets (la mascota) similar to humans (versus just an object) when using certain sentence structures.

They also use M/F adjectives that match the nouns in sentences, which takes a bit of brain training. Not sure this is relative but it certainly puts another spin on how we treat many things a neutral in the English language.

Expand full comment

YES, David!

Expand full comment

David, I've undergone a similar conversion in my own writing. (Also under the influence of Robin and Lyanda.) Kimmerer also makes the interesting point in the notes to Braiding Sweetgrass that human exceptionalism is behind the practice of writing common names lowercase unless they contain proper nouns such as "Kellogg's tiger lily." I think it may be a step too far to get something like this past a copy editor, no? But shouldn't we switch to Kellogg's Tiger Lily?

Expand full comment

Excellent article!

Expand full comment
Mar 2, 2023·edited Mar 2, 2023

All your articles have been great but this one led me to become a paid supporter. <3

Expand full comment