Him, her, and thon?

There used to be a singular gender-neutral pronoun in the English language


That’s right, you heard correctly. A big problem in the English language is the need to use ‘he’ and ‘she’. If something is referring to both genders, why can’t we make our lives easier and have a word for that? Also, in this century, gender identity is evolving. Sometimes people would not like to have a gender assigned to them. It’s high time for a gender-neutral singular pronoun. Believe it or not, there actually used to be one.


Merriam-Webster added the word ‘thon’ to their dictionary in 1934. The word is a contraction of ‘that one’. If you think about it, it makes a lot of sense. ‘Thon’ was actually coined much earlier, though, in 1851. Gender-neutral pronouns had been discussed hundreds of years earlier, and many had been proposed. But none made it as close to being used everyday as ‘thon’. After its addition to the dictionary, it was promoted, and there is some evidence of it in print, such as in crossword puzzles. However, sometimes even authors and journalists forgot of its existence. Rarely, if ever, did the public actually use it. Sadly, it was removed from the dictionary in 1961 for lack of usage. The failure of ‘thon’ is a shame, yes. And you never know, maybe it will all of a sudden experience a revival and become a trendy, new word. But I doubt it. The English language is constantly evolving, not by dictionaries adding new words, but by the day’s youth coming up with easier ways to say things and better ways to express themselves. Words are used far before they even enter the dictionary. After words are commonly used, the dictionary might add them. The problem with ‘thon’ wasn’t the word itself, but rather, that the dictionary was trying to tell people what words to use. Words will appear naturally, and people will use them when there is a need for them. Now, in the 21st century, there is a need for a gender-neutral singular pronoun, because men and women can do the same jobs. People might chose to identify as neither gender. Our world is changing. No longer are men and women so strictly defined. No longer do they always have certain roles in society. There is a need for ‘thon’ today. Most likely, there was not such a big need for it a hundred years ago, so it didn’t catch on. I am confident that there will be a gender-neutral pronoun in the English language soon. It may be ‘thon’ or it might not be. The dictionary can’t manipulate the language, even if it is for the better. We have to make our own language.

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