USING THE SINGULAR “THEY” BECAUSE IT’S TRADITIONAL. Paula Froke, lead editor for the AP Stylebook, said â€œ… we offer new advice for two reasons: recognition that the spoken language uses they as singular and we also recognize the need for a pronoun for people who donâ€™t identify as a he or a she.â€
The Johnson column in the Economist (April 1) argues that the need for a gender-neutral “they” is “unlikely to convince traditionalists”. Johnson instead argues from tradition, pointing out as examples a citation in the Oxford English Dictionary from 1375 and one from the King James Bible. In the post on my apology, I cited McWhorter as arguing from citations in the Comedy of Errors and in Thackeray.
However, the argument for past traditional usage of “they” as singular has been around for a long time without changing any stylebooks, so it appears that it is the need for gender neutrality that has carried the day.