The German language is reportedly considering simplifying its gender articles, like English has. But though we may be ahead on that one, questions of grammar and gender can still fox us too.
When I set about revising Plain Words, the guide to English usage by my great-grandfather, Ernest Gowers, I soon realised that applying the book’s own principles to the job would require me to eliminate from its pages all uses of the indeterminate masculine pronoun.
I was under orders to preserve the vintage charm of the original; but a writing guide must demonstrate what it is attempting to explain, and the most famous maxim in Plain Words is “be short, be simple, be human”.
In the 21st century, “he” used to mean “he or she” is annoying to so many people that it no longer qualifies as “human”– or charming…