Thursday, January 14, 2016

Should have seen it coming

(Updated below.)

This story begins a few days ago, the American Dialect Society announced that singular "they" was their choice as Word of the Year for 2015. (Go here for pervious years' ADS WOTY selections.) The internet blew up, and I commented on my Facebook page:
Okay, first, we need to keep in mind that it's the American Dialect Society, and they cleverly do this once a year so people will remember they exist.

And American English is at least trying to find a remedy to this centuries-old problem. What's the alternative? "He or she" is clunky. We know the problem with generic "he" (or "she"). And "s/he" is unpronounceable. In an age when Webster's offers "figuratively" as a nonstandard synonym for "literally," the whole they/them thing just isn't the hill I'm prepared to die on. If I'm working under a style manual that forbids singular "they," I follow it. Otherwise I default to the Midwestern dialect of my youth, and save my disdain for things like "impactful."
A friend commented that the "they" problem can often be gotten around with a little care in re-writing, which is true, but that end-runs the problem rather than solving it. Basically, this problem is a pseudo-problem anyway, created by generations of prescriptive grammarians trying to force English and American English into the procrustean bed of Latin.

The next day, the story came out that Chris Hughes, the Facebook-co-founding billionaire who purchased The New Republic in 2012, was putting it up for sale. Hughes was not known to have any particular feel for the magazine or its long tradition when he bought it; it was simply a shiny thing he planned to turn it into a showcase for his largely-inapplicable theories about digital media. (Spoiler it went badly.)

Here are the first several lines from his announcement – online, naturally, because that's how it works – that TNR was for sale (emphasis added):
I have some difficult news today: I have decided to put The New Republic up for sale. I bought this company nearly four years ago to ensure its survival and give it the financial runway to experiment with new business models in a time of immense change in media. After investing a great deal of time, energy, and over $20 million, I have come to the conclusion that it is time for new leadership and vision at The New Republic.

Over the past few years we have made good progress in reinvigorating this institution. Our readership has grown younger and more diverse, largely as a result of our digital strategy. Our journalism has been widely recognized as impactful, impassioned, and more relevant to our nation’s challenges than ever.
p3 wishes Mr. Hughes well in his next endeavor, which we sincerely hope won't be education reform.

Update (1/30/16): Looks like the Washington Post isn't going to save Private Ryan anymore, either.

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