This question brings up an important question:

Do we want to allow or avoid the use of non-standard English such as the words zie and zir as non gender specific pronouns on this site?

  • Please edit to remove leading language (see my answer). – TRiG Sep 12 '11 at 20:37
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    This is pretty well covered on meta.SO. The idea is that we need to stick to standard English. – Richard Sep 12 '11 at 21:16
  • Not really "important", but interesting anyways! :-) – Sklivvz Sep 12 '11 at 22:07
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    See also English.SE regarding this very topic. Singular "they" and "one" are both acceptable modern equivalents. – Richard Sep 12 '11 at 22:18
  • Do we really need an explicit SE blog post on "mind your own business?" A lot of people say things you'll disagree with, in ways you disagree with, on a SE. Deal, don't meddle. – mxyzplk Sep 12 '11 at 23:07
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    @mxyzplk: It seems to me from your comment and your answer that you're completely missing the point here. The point is not to say that the OP's views on pronouns are invalid, or even that the words "zie" and "zir" are "bad"--simply that they are not widely enough accepted to be clear at the present time in this context, and thus should be avoided. Nobody is passing moral or ethical judgement on these words, or the reasons they are used. – Flimzy Sep 12 '11 at 23:09
  • Then leave them alone. There's a lot of unclear thoughts and theologies here, what's some grammar into the mix? Suggest something better, then if the OP wants to use their own terminology, MYOB. – mxyzplk Sep 13 '11 at 0:45
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    @mxyzplk: The proper action for confusing questions is to down vote them, and/or make them less confusing if possible. – Flimzy Sep 13 '11 at 0:53
  • What you are doing is driving people away from this site for trivial reasons. It is foolish and short-sighted. – mxyzplk Sep 14 '11 at 12:21
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    @mxyzplk: Unfortunately, one part of creating a site that attracts experts, is driving away people who detract from the quality of the site. Of course the goal is always to improve the content rather than drive people away; but if there are people who insist on low-quality content, then sometimes the result is driving them away. – Flimzy Sep 14 '11 at 18:05


English has a singular they and it's fine for situations where the gender of a person is unknown. It has a long history of usage, and is very logical compared to you that is also available for both singular and plural usage.

Singular they is a standard way to refer to someone in a gender-neutral way.

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    Yes, but not in a situation where you're talking about a couple in one breath and a single person in the next. @Richard tried an edit along those lines, and I reverted it because it made the question unreadable by introducing silly and unnecessary ambiguity. – TRiG Sep 12 '11 at 20:29
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    @TRiG: so if I were talking about Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and using just he to refer to all four became ambiguous, what would I do? Of course refer to them as he, ne, yt and yo! – StackExchange saddens dancek Sep 12 '11 at 20:33
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    @dancek. The confusion is lesser there, and nor is there any way to avoid it in a spoken language (signed languages score here), because there's only one source of confusion: to which antecedent is each he referring, and both the writer and the reader are well aware of the potential ambiguities and can take steps to clarify. Singular they however, while well attested, is more confusing, as plural they comes more readily to mind, especially when plural they is also used in the same sentence. Taking a tip from your link, we could always use s/h/it. Somehow I don't see that taking off. – TRiG Sep 12 '11 at 20:50
  • @TRiG s/h/it lol – fгedsbend Oct 2 '19 at 18:43

I'd never seen these used before today. I suspect most readers won't be familiar with them either. Normally, you'd want to simply edit a post that used such obscure words or phrasings to make it more accessible (provided you could do so without altering the meaning)... But that was tried, and not only rejected, but rejected with a declaration from the author asserting that no alternate phrasing would suffice if it did not use his preferred pronouns. So the question then becomes, what now?

Do what you can to respect the original author. If he (zie?) insists on rolling back the edits, then let it be. Don't get into a rollback war over it... This goes for any rejected edit. I understand how frustrating it can be, but it's the original author's name shown below the post, not yours - let it credit or discredit them as they desire. There are more productive avenues available for dealing with problematic posts where the author is too stubborn to allow edits:

Rules of thumb for respectfully handling the rejection of edits

  • If the rejected edit amounts to a matter of personal taste, defer to the choice of the original author.

  • If multiple users see the question, edit, and find their edits rolled back, flag for moderator attention. The author is probably being intentionally disruptive if the edits are valid and obvious to most readers - a moderator will need to mediate (and either attempt to find a clarification that satisfies all parties, or simply lock the post with a revision chosen according to their best judgement.

  • If the question is rude, argumentative, or blatantly offensive with the edits in place, close ("Not Constructive") or flag as appropriate.

  • If the question is simply unintelligible without editing, vote to close as "Not a Real Question". The author should have edited to clarify instead of simply rolling back the edit he saw as incorrect.

  • Rejection of any other edits intended to correct serious issues that would otherwise result in the question being closed or deleted should similarly result in the question being closed and/or deleted.

Finally, if a question has problems that don't necessarily require it to be closed or removed, but nevertheless hurt its clarity or usefulness, then feel free to down-vote it, regardless of whether or not it has been edited, closed, etc. Voting helps the system remove cruft from the question list, as well as helping both moderators and the system to identify users who fail to show improvement over time. Don't forget: down-votes on questions cost you (the voter) nothing...

(I hasten to add here that not all of these guidelines apply to the question under discussion; I wouldn't close it simply because the example ends up looking a bit tortured.)

  • I think this answer is relevant to the situation at hand, but not really relevant to the actual question at hand. Normally I'd just down-vote the answer since it doesn't seem directly related... but it comes from a mod who seems to be pretty smart... Does this mean I asked the wrong question? :) – Flimzy Sep 13 '11 at 1:12
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    Answering the question... I KNEW I FORGOT SOMETHING! But no, I didn't really feel like I had anything to add regarding which pronouns are allowed on the site; the voting so far is overwhelmingly against these and I rather suspect you knew it would be... What matters is how we respond when they're used anyway. I've edited to clarify this. – Shog9 Sep 13 '11 at 1:20
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    "but it's the original author's name shown below the post, not yours". Something featured pretty prominently in the FAQ on all SE sites is "If you are not comfortable with the idea of your contributions being collaboratively edited by other trusted users, this may not be the site for you." I think it's fair to say that replacing obscure words (made-up or not) with more accessible words is a reasonable use of the editing system. If someone is so obsessed with a pet issue like this that they'll throw a tantrum, I think the advice in the FAQ probably applies. – Adam Robinson Sep 13 '11 at 1:51
  • And unrelated, I do have to -1 just because, like you said, this answer (useful as it may be in its own right) doesn't actually deal with the question. – Adam Robinson Sep 13 '11 at 1:52
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    @Adam: it is not merely reasonable, but an admirable use of editing! Folks willing and able to make such edits are doing a great service to the site. That said, the policy is and has been to respect the original author: "But in the case where the original poster is unwilling to accept the edits and actively rejects them — please do not force the issue. It just leads to heartache. When in doubt, move on." Ultimately, it's the author's own foot he's shooting. – Shog9 Sep 13 '11 at 1:57
  • @Shog: Good point. Good advice for both sides. – Adam Robinson Sep 13 '11 at 2:36
  • Does this post need updating? – Rebecca J. Stones Dec 2 '19 at 7:22

No, this is not standard English, and will confuse the vast majority of non-native English speakers, as well as a very significant percentage of native English speakers.

Even if the OP speaks this way in normal conversation, as he claims:

No. It's not artificial. It's the way I speak and write. And it's staying.

I don't think this is an excuse to use confusing language. If a non-native English, or even for that matter, a native English speaker were to post a question with confusing grammar, we would correct it to be more generally understood.

Furthermore, there are other ways to avoid gender-specific pronouns that don't violate "normal, accepted" English. We should encourage these instead.


I think that the pronouns were used in good faith but were a bit confusing. However, the edit was also a bit confusing.

On the other hand (and I feel this is important):

  • Confusing terms should be clarified. A note or a link is sufficient here to preserve the original form while making it clear to everybody. Instead of changing the pronouns, since TRiG objects, we should simply add a footnote.
  • Users should feel welcome to the site, and I think that needing to open a question like this in meta is not what should happen for such a minor matter. TRiG does have some reasons to be upset at the kind of treatment he's receiving--whether he's right or wrong, having three people "shooting him down" in the comments, as well, is not the way to solve this.
  • I don't think that trying to moderate every... single... minor... point... in meta is actually useful or good for the site in general. It feels pedantic and a bit off-topic.
  • I don't think anybody is claiming that they were not used in "good faith." I think the only point of contention is that they are confusing. Of course TRiG's comment of "No. It's not artificial. It's the way I speak and write. And it's staying." might be interpreted by some as a lack of good-faith on his part... although that's not how I took it. – Flimzy Sep 12 '11 at 22:52
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    I disagree strongly with Meta being "too strong" for such a minor matter. While this certainly doesn't need to be in the site's FAQ, it is/was a contentious issue and therefore benefited from the elbow room provided by a meta question (vs. being stuffed into comments / revision history). – Shog9 Sep 12 '11 at 22:58
  • @Shog9: It shouldn't be something people fight over anyways. I mean -8 votes because of 3 pronouns? I think it's way too strong. Clarified the answer. – Sklivvz Sep 12 '11 at 23:01
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    Have you seen the discussions that arise over beginning posts with greetings on MSO? Folks will argue vehemently over the most trivial matters... Saying, "it shouldn't happen, therefore we shouldn't discuss it in the proper venue when it does" solves nothing. – Shog9 Sep 12 '11 at 23:08
  • @Shog9 I am merely saying that minor matters should not escalate to this point, not that we should hide the problem. Of course meta is better than arguing in the comments, but arguing over pronouns is, well, silly and should be avoided. – Sklivvz Sep 12 '11 at 23:12
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    I agree there. Although I'm not entirely sure this was originally an argument about pronouns (I wouldn't even have recognized them as such without the aid of comments) - the larger issue is one that's been with us for three years now: what to do when an edit made for clarity's sake is rejected. The same concepts apply to edits which attempt to correct broken grammar, "txtspk", missing punctuation, etc. – Shog9 Sep 12 '11 at 23:25

Considering we are accepting all comers as far as self claiming Christians, we might as well accept all comers as far as self proclaimed pronouns too. It is in the spirit of religious and lingual tolerance that we accept them. This tolerance is of course limited by the fact that this is an English site, these however, while not exactly English are an attempt at correcting an issue in the English language..

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    Zeis is an interesting answer. – Richard Sep 12 '11 at 20:23
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    Lingual tolerance, huh? Je suis très désolé, jag talar många andra språk också ja soisin että kaikkia niistä suvaittaisiin tasapuolisesti! – StackExchange saddens dancek Sep 12 '11 at 20:27
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    @dancek Ben de öyle diyecektim, sözlerimi ağızımdan çaldın! – Caleb Sep 12 '11 at 20:33
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    I don't think this has much to do with religious tolerance. Accepting a question as on topic and giving it answers are not at all the same thing as working together to make the question more clear to future comers. SE is not just about the original question asker, it's about leaving behind a valuable question and answer pair. At this point the made up language bits detract from the core issue of the question ... people don't even see past that ... and thus make it a poor quality question. The editing system is in place for a reason ... to help fix mistakes and clarify questions. – Caleb Sep 12 '11 at 20:38

Sure, let them. Who cares about "zis"? If someone is fond of their own pet thing, let them do it. They'll have confused people make edits all the time and they'll roll them back and there's no need to have more scuffling than that over it. I've seen it with "colour vs color" edits, and that's such a waste of time. If someone rejects BC/AD/BCE/CE dates and only puts in years from whatever other frame of reference - fine, let them.

What will happen is that if people insist on making question in their own pet mindframe, few people will answer their question. As long as people are asking questions they want to know the answer to, this will be self correcting - if you use a language or date system or whatever that people don't understand, you won't get answers. If they are not asking questions they want to know the answer to, crush them, because that's not what we need here.

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    We don't want low-quality questions and answers on this site. That drives away experts. That's the whole reason SE succeeds... because it has very high standards of excellence. – Flimzy Sep 12 '11 at 23:03
  • So if someone has their own pet gender issues or whatever, that makes them low quality automatically? Seems very closed minded. Sure they're being freaks, but it's no more a dealbreaker than the various other crazy beliefs that don't involve spelling you find on this and every other SE. – mxyzplk Sep 12 '11 at 23:04
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    I'm not judging anyones "gender issues"--I'm judging the clarity of the language used in asking the question. If I ask "Is it okay for me to unf while I flackle?" it's a very low quality question, regardless of how dearly I hold to the terms or meanings behind the words "unf" and "flackle." – Flimzy Sep 12 '11 at 23:07

I think that calling these pronouns "made up" is (a) phrasing the question in a leading manner, and (b) completely irrelevant. Many "made up" words are now a natural part of the language. The word robot was invented by a science-fiction writer (and a Czech one, at that); the word lasar is completely artificial. So, for that matter, is the word agnostic. Would you complain that I was using "made up" language if I called myself an agnostic?

No, the question is whether they are a natural part of the language. Are they? Well, they're too new to have percolated to everyone yet, but I am well used to them and they come naturally to me. Their meaning is pretty clear; they mean what they mean, and nothing else. There's no pretension or special agenda involved in using them. Frankly, I don't see a problem.

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    Their meaning is only clear to those who know what their meaning is. The majority--as you imply--don't know what they mean. The problem is not that the meaning is ambiguous, but that the meaning is unknown. – Flimzy Sep 12 '11 at 20:37
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    P.S., I have removed "made-up" from my question. I don't think that changes the relevance of the question or any answers, though. – Flimzy Sep 12 '11 at 20:37
  • @Flimzy. The meaning is obvious from context. Honestly, I was not looking for a debate on this. I asked the question because I was interested in it. This blow up debate on a trifling irrelevancy is confusing me. – TRiG Sep 12 '11 at 20:38
  • @Flimzy. Relevant or not, it was leading language and encouraged answers along particular lines. Thanks for getting rid of it. – TRiG Sep 12 '11 at 20:40
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    If you're primarily interested in the answer to your question, then you shouldn't object to changing the pronouns to something less confusing/controversial. – Flimzy Sep 12 '11 at 20:44
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    I don't believe that stackexchange is the proper place to coin new words, except under exceptional, spectacularly rare circumstances. – Richard Sep 12 '11 at 20:46
  • @Flimzy. It never occurred to me at the time that it would be controversial (seriously, what's the problem?), but since it ties into things that are important to me, I'm going to stick to my guns on this one. I wasn't using gender-neutral pronouns as a form of "consciousness raining", but some people here clearly need their consciousnesses raised. If you think this is controversial, there's something wrong with you. – TRiG Sep 12 '11 at 20:54
  • @Richard. Please stop calling me a liar. Or if you're going to, do so outright, not in a sly underhand fashion. I said that these words are a normal part of my vocabulary. They are. I wasn't "coining" them here. And unless you have evidence to the contrary, please shut up. And apologise. – TRiG Sep 12 '11 at 20:56
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    It is clearly controversial... considering the controversy that it brought up. If you don't think it is, then there is something wrong with you :) Note that I'm not passing judgement on your view that non-gender specific pronouns are valuable. I'm simply saying these words are not well enough accepted in our language to be non-confusing. If/when they are well accepted, I won't have a problem with using them on a site like this. – Flimzy Sep 12 '11 at 20:57
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    If the issue is a 'trifling irrelevancy to you' then you should have no objection to allowing it to be edited by the community into something everybody can understand. – Caleb Sep 12 '11 at 20:57
  • @TRiG I'm not calling anyone a liar. I believe they are a normal part of your vocabulary. But just like "turtlepoke" is a normal part of my vocabulary, it's not a commonly accepted English word and so I don't use it here. – Richard Sep 12 '11 at 20:57
  • @Richard. Well after I said that I was simply using my normal vocabulary, you accused me of "coining" words here. You were calling me a liar. Please take it back. – TRiG Sep 12 '11 at 20:59
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    @Trig Richard's edit was not unreadable nor was it a mess. Lets be fair here. I think everyone needs to take a step back and cool off a bit. – wax eagle Sep 12 '11 at 21:07
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    "they mean what they mean, and nothing else" I'm instantly reminded of, "When I use a word it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less." – Shog9 Sep 12 '11 at 21:45
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    -1. To me, potential agenda driving word choice isn't much of an issue. Using obscure words (made-up or not; I've never seen them before, but I have no reason to think you're a liar) that would be regarded by the vast majority of readers as nonsense is, though. – Adam Robinson Sep 13 '11 at 1:55

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