Yo gender-neutral singular pronoun has arrived at last!

14 Mar 2008 - 2:31am
6 years ago
15 replies
1200 reads
Morten Hjerde
2007

I do a lot of writing in english, and when discussing IxD I need to refer to
the person using the product. But there is no good way top refer to that
person because English language lacks of a gender-neutral singular pronoun.
Writing"the user" and "he" is easy and works well grammatically, but it is a
big no-no (and for good reasons).

I've seen a number of alternative solutions and all has their issues:

- Using "He" or "She" is considered sexist
- Always referring to the full "he or she" is a bit long-winded and
stifled
- "One" is archaic
- Writing "s/he" or alternating "he" and "she" in every other sentence
seems awkward and strange
- Rewriting the sentence in plural, i.e referring to "they" often
works but not always.
- Referring to "people" or even "you" instead of "the users" is ok,
(but can be a bit of a minefield for non-english writers)

But check this out:
Dr. Elaine Stotko, from the School of Education at Johns Hopkins University,
and her student, Margaret Troyer, have discovered that school children in
Baltimore are *using the slang word yo as a gender-neutral singular pronoun*.
Dr. Stotko was teaching a master's class at Johns Hopkins, and it came out
during a discussion that several of the high school and middle school
English teachers had noticed their students using *yo* as a pronoun. Often
the students would be talking to another student, would point at the third
person they were referring to, and would say something like "Yo threw a
thumbtack at me." This made teachers think they were using *yo* to mean "he
or she" instead of *yo* as you would normally hear in phrases like "Yo
momma."
[...]
The researchers found that it was most common for the kids to use *yo* in
the subject position; for example, "Yo wearin' a new coat," (to point out
someone wearing a new coat). But they also used *yo* in the object position,
as in "I saw yo at school," and "Look at yo." <
http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/grammar-yo-pronoun.aspx>

*
"Yo can accomplish tasks quickly, because well-designed applications don't
get in yo way."*
What do you think? :-)

--
Morten Hjerde
http://sender11.typepad.com

Comments

14 Mar 2008 - 4:45am
Bruce Esrig
2006

Hi Morten,

The key to using pronouns correctly is establishing what they refer to. You
need to have the referent in front of you, as when writing a caption for a
cartoon, or else introduce it with descriptive text, or else point a finger
at it.

It might be premature to write with "yo", but if you're inclined to radical
forward-looking usage, perhaps using "yo" in the third person would work.
During the transition, you might need to explain your usage in a note. Maybe
we can get the schoolchildren in Baltimore to podcast or quote one another
in blog entries to speed things up.

Best wishes,

Bruce

On Fri, Mar 14, 2008 at 4:31 AM, Morten Hjerde <mhjerde at gmail.com> wrote:

> I do a lot of writing in english, and when discussing IxD I need to refer
> to
> the person using the product. But there is no good way top refer to that
> person because English language lacks of a gender-neutral singular
> pronoun.
> Writing"the user" and "he" is easy and works well grammatically, but it is
> a
> big no-no (and for good reasons).
>
> I've seen a number of alternative solutions and all has their issues:
>
> - Using "He" or "She" is considered sexist
> - Always referring to the full "he or she" is a bit long-winded and
> stifled
> - "One" is archaic
> - Writing "s/he" or alternating "he" and "she" in every other sentence
> seems awkward and strange
> - Rewriting the sentence in plural, i.e referring to "they" often
> works but not always.
> - Referring to "people" or even "you" instead of "the users" is ok,
> (but can be a bit of a minefield for non-english writers)
>
>
> But check this out:
> Dr. Elaine Stotko, from the School of Education at Johns Hopkins
> University,
> and her student, Margaret Troyer, have discovered that school children in
> Baltimore are *using the slang word yo as a gender-neutral singular
> pronoun*.
> Dr. Stotko was teaching a master's class at Johns Hopkins, and it came out
> during a discussion that several of the high school and middle school
> English teachers had noticed their students using *yo* as a pronoun. Often
> the students would be talking to another student, would point at the third
> person they were referring to, and would say something like "Yo threw a
> thumbtack at me." This made teachers think they were using *yo* to mean
> "he
> or she" instead of *yo* as you would normally hear in phrases like "Yo
> momma."
> [...]
> The researchers found that it was most common for the kids to use *yo* in
> the subject position; for example, "Yo wearin' a new coat," (to point out
> someone wearing a new coat). But they also used *yo* in the object
> position,
> as in "I saw yo at school," and "Look at yo." <
> http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/grammar-yo-pronoun.aspx>
>
> *
> "Yo can accomplish tasks quickly, because well-designed applications don't
> get in yo way."*
> What do you think? :-)
>
> --
> Morten Hjerde
> http://sender11.typepad.com
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
> List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
> List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help
>
>

14 Mar 2008 - 5:42am
SemanticWill
2007

Funny - i would use it - but I like getting paid for my work :-)

On Fri, Mar 14, 2008 at 4:31 AM, Morten Hjerde <mhjerde at gmail.com> wrote:

> I do a lot of writing in english, and when discussing IxD I need to refer
> to
> the person using the product. But there is no good way top refer to that
> person because English language lacks of a gender-neutral singular
> pronoun.
> Writing"the user" and "he" is easy and works well grammatically, but it is
> a
> big no-no (and for good reasons).
>
> I've seen a number of alternative solutions and all has their issues:
>
> - Using "He" or "She" is considered sexist
> - Always referring to the full "he or she" is a bit long-winded and
> stifled
> - "One" is archaic
> - Writing "s/he" or alternating "he" and "she" in every other sentence
> seems awkward and strange
> - Rewriting the sentence in plural, i.e referring to "they" often
> works but not always.
> - Referring to "people" or even "you" instead of "the users" is ok,
> (but can be a bit of a minefield for non-english writers)
>
>
> But check this out:
> Dr. Elaine Stotko, from the School of Education at Johns Hopkins
> University,
> and her student, Margaret Troyer, have discovered that school children in
> Baltimore are *using the slang word yo as a gender-neutral singular
> pronoun*.
> Dr. Stotko was teaching a master's class at Johns Hopkins, and it came out
> during a discussion that several of the high school and middle school
> English teachers had noticed their students using *yo* as a pronoun. Often
> the students would be talking to another student, would point at the third
> person they were referring to, and would say something like "Yo threw a
> thumbtack at me." This made teachers think they were using *yo* to mean
> "he
> or she" instead of *yo* as you would normally hear in phrases like "Yo
> momma."
> [...]
> The researchers found that it was most common for the kids to use *yo* in
> the subject position; for example, "Yo wearin' a new coat," (to point out
> someone wearing a new coat). But they also used *yo* in the object
> position,
> as in "I saw yo at school," and "Look at yo." <
> http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/grammar-yo-pronoun.aspx>
>
> *
> "Yo can accomplish tasks quickly, because well-designed applications don't
> get in yo way."*
> What do you think? :-)
>
> --
> Morten Hjerde
> http://sender11.typepad.com
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
> List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
> List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help
>

--
~ will

"Where you innovate, how you innovate,
and what you innovate are design problems"

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Will Evans | CrowdSprout
tel +1.617.281.1281 | fax +1.617.507.6016 | will at crowdsprout.com

14 Mar 2008 - 6:20am
Scott McDaniel
2007

Yo'd obviously need much solid evangelism to convince every yo and yo
in yo company.

On Fri, Mar 14, 2008 at 7:42 AM, W Evans <wkevans4 at gmail.com> wrote:
> Funny - i would use it - but I like getting paid for my work :-)
>
>

--
'Life' plus 'significance' = magic. ~ Grant Morrison

14 Mar 2008 - 6:39am
SemanticWill
2007

Yo, McD! What is the plural past perfect possessive form of Yo?

will evans
user experience architect
wkevans4 at gmail.com
617.281.1281

On Mar 14, 2008, at 8:20 AM, "Scott McDaniel" <scott at scottopic.com>
wrote:

> Yo'd obviously need much solid evangelism to convince every yo and yo
> in yo company.
>
> On Fri, Mar 14, 2008 at 7:42 AM, W Evans <wkevans4 at gmail.com> wrote:
>> Funny - i would use it - but I like getting paid for my work :-)
>>
>>
>
>
>
> --
> 'Life' plus 'significance' = magic. ~ Grant Morrison
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
> List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
> List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help

14 Mar 2008 - 6:45am
Charlie Kreitzberg
2008

As I understand it, the term "yo" comes from "you." It was pretty common in
the Bronx when I was a kid.

One of the problems in English is the lack of a distinctive plural for
"you." We use the same word for both one and many people. For example:

I gave flowers to you because you are my love.
I gave flowers to you because you are the best football team in the world.

To meet the need for discriminating between the two uses, words evolve. In
the south the phrase "Y'all" which is a contraction of "you all" became
popular as a distinctive plural of you. In the Northeast "youse" like "Youse
guys are in trouble" became popular. This came about because most plurals in
English are formed by adding an "s" so "you + s = youse."

I gave flowers to youse because you are the best football team in the world.

Another popular choice is "you guys" that might evolve into a single word in
the future where "guys" is treated as gender neutral.

I gave flowers to you guys because you won the beauty pageant.

The lack of a gender neutral singular pronoun has been a topic of discussion
for many years. There were a few attempts I remember in the sixties to come
up with a word for "he or she" but none became popular. The idea the "yo"
has become a gender-neutral pronoun was promulgated in a paper based on
observation of kids in Baltimore. To me, most of the examples sounded more
like the "traditional" use of "Yo" to mean "You" but I have not read the
original -- only comments on it.

The most common way to do this now is to use "they" as in:

When the user looks at the screen they decide what action to take.

Or "them"

When someone wants a better interface you should give it to them.

While grammar teachers may shudder, language evolves as a result of how
people choose to use it not by what the grammarians dictate. Some linguists
have proposed theories that can predict how the words in a language will
change.

Of course, another force in this is texting. If you haven't seen it, a fun
site is "The English-to-12-Year-Old-AOLer Translator" located at
http://ssshotaru.homestead.com/files/aolertranslator.html which translates
standard English into "netLingo."

Or, as the translator puts it:

OF COURSE ANOTHAR FORC3 IN THES SI T3XTNG!!!1! WTF LOL IF U HAEVNT SEN IT A
FUN SIET SI TH3 ENGLISH-2-12-YEAR-OLD-AOLAR TRANSLA2R LOCAETD AT
http://ssshotaru.homestead.com/files/aolertranslator.html LOL WHICH
TRANSLAETS STANDARD ENGLISH IN2 NATLNGO!1!!11 WTF LOL

Anyway, time to get back to work. I hope youse have a gr8 day. TTYL.

Charlie

14 Mar 2008 - 6:50am
Beck Tench
2007

There's another radical way to do it... "ze" for he and she and "hir"
for his and her.

More fun here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gender-neutral_pronoun

--
becktench.com

On 3/14/08, William Evans <wkevans4 at gmail.com> wrote:
> Yo, McD! What is the plural past perfect possessive form of Yo?
>
> will evans
> user experience architect
> wkevans4 at gmail.com
> 617.281.1281
>
>
> On Mar 14, 2008, at 8:20 AM, "Scott McDaniel" <scott at scottopic.com>
> wrote:
>
>
> > Yo'd obviously need much solid evangelism to convince every yo and yo
> > in yo company.
> >
> > On Fri, Mar 14, 2008 at 7:42 AM, W Evans <wkevans4 at gmail.com> wrote:
> >> Funny - i would use it - but I like getting paid for my work :-)
> >>
> >>
> >
> >
> >
> > --
> > 'Life' plus 'significance' = magic. ~ Grant Morrison
> > ________________________________________________________________
> > Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> > To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> > Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
> > List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
> > List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
> List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
> List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help
>

14 Mar 2008 - 7:24am
Todd Warfel
2003

> Dr. Elaine Stotko, from the School of Education at Johns Hopkins
> University, and her student, Margaret Troyer, have discovered that
> school children in Baltimore are *using the slang word yo as a
> gender-neutral singular pronoun*.

I'm curious what part of Baltimore this was and the ethnic and social
class make up of the class(es) they noticed this in.

Cheers!

Todd Zaki Warfel
President, Design Researcher
Messagefirst | Designing Information. Beautifully.
----------------------------------
Contact Info
Voice: (215) 825-7423
Email: todd at messagefirst.com
AIM: twarfel at mac.com
Blog: http://toddwarfel.com
----------------------------------
In theory, theory and practice are the same.
In practice, they are not.

14 Mar 2008 - 7:57am
Dave Malouf
2005

Morten,
Actually, one of the best things to do that I've seen is constantly
switch between "he" and "she" within your documentation. 1) it
helps people remember that there is an engendered person at the end
of that "user". 2) It is grammatically correct and as someone
noted, won't get you fired.

Another thing I do is use the plural, "They". It works OK
especially if you think that a lot of talk of "users" is in future
tenses where in English the conjugations are pretty much the same for
singular and plural.

I think the use of "yo" is not nearly understood within the US, and
would fall on confused, very confused ears.

-- dave

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Posted from the new ixda.org
http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=27068

14 Mar 2008 - 8:11am
Jack L. Moffett
2005

I can't help but add that Pittsburgh natives have another derivative.
"Yinz" comes from "yuns", which is a contraction of "you ones".

"Yinz going to the Steelers game?"
"Yinz guys want another Iron City?"

"Yinz click on that there button to print."

Truly awful.

Jack

On Mar 14, 2008, at 8:45 AM, Charles B. Kreitzberg wrote:

> To meet the need for discriminating between the two uses, words
> evolve. In
> the south the phrase "Y'all" which is a contraction of "you all"
> became
> popular as a distinctive plural of you. In the Northeast "youse"
> like "Youse
> guys are in trouble" became popular. This came about because most
> plurals in
> English are formed by adding an "s" so "you + s = youse."

Jack L. Moffett
Interaction Designer
inmedius
412.459.0310 x219
http://www.inmedius.com

Design is a process -
an intimate collaboration between
engineers, designers, and clients.

- Henry Dreyfuss

14 Mar 2008 - 8:28am
Morten Hjerde
2007

Being a fan of The Wire <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Wire_(TV_series)>,
set in Baltimore, I've seen (head) a lot of "yo" and "y'all". It wasn't from
the privileged elite of Baltimore. But, then again watching a TV show is not
exactly field research, he-he.

The most common way to do this now is to use "they" as in: When the user
> looks at the screen they decide what action to take.
> Or "them" When someone wants a better interface you should give it to
> them.
>
>
I've used plural to avoid "he or she". I didn't realize that using the
"singular they" is actually proper English. Or *almost *proper English.
That's cool!

This post was intended to be a bit in the "friday fun" spirit; part funny,
part interesting. I guess that didn't come across too well :-)

Morten

--
Morten Hjerde
http://sender11.typepad.com

14 Mar 2008 - 8:43am
Scott McDaniel
2007

On Fri, Mar 14, 2008 at 10:28 AM, Morten Hjerde <mhjerde at gmail.com> wrote:
> I've used plural to avoid "he or she". I didn't realize that using the
> "singular they" is actually proper English. Or *almost *proper English.
> That's cool!
>
> This post was intended to be a bit in the "friday fun" spirit; part funny,
> part interesting. I guess that didn't come across too well :-)
>
> Morten

I think it did :)
I interact with perhaps an above-average number of people who are
transgendered, so the question of use comes up pretty often for me,
at least personally. It's probably a non-issue for almost all tasks
and documentation we do, but presents an interesting view on impact on
certain users -- some are outright offended by "he or she" or
alternating use. I'm not advocating - yet - that anyone change their
standards
by this idea. At the same time, I don't consider it irrelevant.

Scott

--
'Life' plus 'significance' = magic. ~ Grant Morrison

14 Mar 2008 - 9:01am
Jack L. Moffett
2005

On Mar 14, 2008, at 10:28 AM, Morten Hjerde wrote:

> This post was intended to be a bit in the "friday fun" spirit; part
> funny,
> part interesting. I guess that didn't come across too well :-)

Oh, it did. I had a good laugh. But you know us designers. We're a
practical lot.

I've been able to skirt the edges of this particular grammatical
problem, as, so far, all of the users of the projects I have worked
on thus far have been men. I guess you'll have that in military and
industrial/maintenance fields. I therefore choose to use he/him/his
in my documentation.

Jack

Jack L. Moffett
Interaction Designer
inmedius
412.459.0310 x219
http://www.inmedius.com

There is no good design that is not
based on the understanding of people.

- Stefano Marzano
CEO of Philips Design

14 Mar 2008 - 7:38am
pyces
2007

That's interesting about the yo. It reminded me of a comment that my 4
1/2 year old daughter made the other day, "I'm a smart girl, amn't I?".
I corrected her, saying that she should say "aren't I". But when I
thought about it, even though that's the way we say it, it really isn't
grammatically correct, but it's the way it's evolved through everyday
usage. "Are" is supposed to be conjugated with "you", not "I". And
without the contraction, the sentence is grammatically correct: "I'm a
smart girl, am I not?". So "I'm a smart girl, aren't I" isn't
technically grammatically correct, though we hear that conjugation all
the time. After this thought process, I un-corrected her (I guess that
would really be dis-corrected, if either were a word, since I can't undo
the knowledge of the correction completely!).

So perhaps one day soon, we'll be using "amn't" as well! ;-) And really,
why on earth wasn't a contraction formed from that when the contractions
were evolving...probably cause we were already using "aren't" for those
instances.

Courtney Jordan

14 Mar 2008 - 10:56am
Phillip Hunter
2006

Anyone who really wants to dig into this can lose the rest of their day here
at Language Log, a terrific source for those of us professionally or
otherwise obsessed with written and spoken language:

http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/005298.html (includes
awesome sample usage)

And here (for a The Wire reference)

http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/005320.html

The second shows that there is a reference to urban use at least 5 five
years ago.

ph

-----Original Message-----
From: discuss-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com
[mailto:discuss-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com] On Behalf Of Todd
Zaki Warfel
Sent: Friday, March 14, 2008 9:25 AM
To: W Evans
Cc: IXDA list
Subject: Re: [IxDA Discuss] Yo gender-neutral singular pronoun has arrivedat
last!

> Dr. Elaine Stotko, from the School of Education at Johns Hopkins
> University, and her student, Margaret Troyer, have discovered that
> school children in Baltimore are *using the slang word yo as a
> gender-neutral singular pronoun*.

I'm curious what part of Baltimore this was and the ethnic and social
class make up of the class(es) they noticed this in.

14 Mar 2008 - 11:45am
Jeff Seager
2007

We use "y'all" here in West Virginia, just far enough below the
Mason-Dixon Line to get away with it. Having made my living (after a
fashion) as a writer for more than 25 years, I think of "yo" and
"yinz" (which I love, Jack) and other such constructs as
colloquial, regional and useful in their own way.

If I were communicating exclusively to folks from Balmer or
Pittsburgh, I'd go with those. If you're writing a desktop app for
use in such a place, I think it'd be great to toss that in as a
customization to encourage local adoption. But not for a broad
audience.

Besides, the lack of a gender-neutral pronoun in English is not a
bug. It's a feature!

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Posted from the new ixda.org
http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=27068

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