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Y'all better not mess with this billboard's broken grammar

January 09, 2012
  • Tim Rowland
Tim Rowland

The billboard didn’t even make my blood boil. I don’t know if that’s a sign of age, cowardice, wisdom or the fact that having fought this battle for three decades, I just don’t care anymore.

It’s a billboard for some charity or another that pronounces, “Everyone Has Something They Can Give.”

As Linus would say, “sigh.”

Ten years ago, maybe, I’m immediately on the phone screaming “something HE can give, conswarn it, something HE can give! Lord knows we have enough grammatical butchery in this world as it is, without you pasting it up in 10-foot type for thousands of passing motorists to see every day.”

But today? Meh. Worse, I’m starting to get this horrible feeling that this is a battle lost, that our forces are needed elsewhere. I mean, when people are substituting “u” for “you” and writing lol on e-sympathy cards, perhaps subject-pronoun agreement has floated too far out to sea.

I know full well the risk of even bringing this up for consideration. I’ll be accused of giving in, or being weak at a time when the need for strength is greatest.

But it’s starting into what I call the “Try and” paradigm. First we try and correct people, gently insisting that it should be “try to correct,” not “try and correct.” Then we think, well, that’s a bit picky isn’t it? So we ignore the offense and then we start to say that it’s all right to SPEAK “try and,” but it’s improper to WRITE “try and” because — well, there is no logical reason really. It’s either correct or it’s not, and the whole spoken English vs. written English charade is to me just a way to save face in the wake of an embarrassing retreat.

So, by and by, “try to” sinks into that lexical tar pit of proper but extinct grammar that has claimed “recur” and “such as.”

But, heretical as it might be, I’m starting to think that “everyone has something they can” is not the fault of the writer, but of the English language itself.

In short, there’s a word missing.

Consider that the situation was exacerbated by political correctness, which dictated that the biblical “he” (meaning both dudes and dudesses) is no longer acceptable.

But anyone who believes that the solution to the original problem is “Everyone has something he or she can give” is deluding himself or herself. To me, that’s more awkward than the original error.

So what we’re missing is a gender-neutral, third-person pronoun that, like the second-person “you,” can be singular or plural. The word would refer to any combination of the following: he; two or more he(s); she; two or more she(s). Simple. Call the word “thesh.”

“Everyone has something thesh can give.”

Now ,I do understand the danger here, and it centers on the bastardizations that have overtaken “you” because it sounds more singular than it is.

This has led to multiple bucolic atrocities such as “yous,” “you all,” “y’all” and “you’uns.” It would only be a matter of time, I suspect, until people started saying “thesh all,” “th’all” and “thesh’uns.”

So I’m right back where I started.

I suppose I’ll continue to view “everyone/they” as I would a dehydrated wasp on the rear deck of my car: An annoyance, but not one that’s worth the trouble it takes to find a car wash and pump six quarters into the autovac.

And I’ll save my real violence for people who insist on saying “reoccur.”

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 6997, or via email at timr@herald-mail.com. Tune in to the Rowland Rant at www.herald-mail.com, on antpod.com or on Antietam Cable’s WCL-TV Channel 30 at 6:30 p.m. New episodes are released every Wednesday.

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