In recent years the idea of choosing your own pronoun has become commonplace in many institutions and businesses. Signature lines now include a short list after someone’s name that may say, “he, his, him,” or “they, their, them” for those who don't want to be identified in binary gender terms.
While pronoun requests are a hot topic in culture debates, new trends are competing for acceptance in our everyday parlance. We spoke with critical studies professor Charles DeMize about some upcoming culturally sensitive grammar changes.
INTERVIEWER: You spoke to me a little earlier about “tense” and how this is the new choice people must make in how they see themselves. Can you explain a bit about this?
CHARLES DeMIZE: The idea that time is linear is a Western, white male construct. Your tense may be even more important than your pronoun because it positions you in your reality, which is your sense of being on a much higher level.
INTERVIEWER: So, like your pronoun, you would also choose the tense people should associate with you?
CHARLES DeMIZE: Correct. For example, someone might identify in the past by using “was, were,” in the present with “am, is,” or in the future with “will be.”
INTERVIEWER: So, when you speak to someone who identifies as being in the past tense, you use only past tense when referring to him or her?
CHARLES DeMIZE: Or them.
INTERVIEWER: Right, of course.
CHARLES DeMIZE: If, for example, I used the somewhat archaic construction of, “Cindy went to the store and bought herself a soda,” I would now say for a non-binary future tense person, “Cindy will go to the store and will buy them a soda.”
INTERVIEWER: Even if that all happened in the past?
CHARLES DeMIZE: Again, we are not constraining ourselves to the linearity of time. In Cindy’s view, they live in the future.
INTERVIEWER: Who is “they”?
CHARLES DeMIZE: Cindy.
INTERVIEWER: Who’s on first? Ha ha.
CHARLES DeMize: Abbot and Costello were racist.
INTERVIEWER: Of course. Yes, I know that. Let me ask you, what is your tense?
CHARLES DeMize: It shifts, maybe three or four times a day, but that’s just me. I will take a present tense in the morning, and will shift to future, then back to present, and then I will spend the afternoon and evening being in the past. It all depends. Some days I will be entirely in the past, particularly when my high school reunion is looming, for instance.
INTERVIEWER: Do you feel like the use of personal tenses and turning plural pronouns into singulars could make basic communication untenable?
CHARLES DeMize: Yes, if you are a white supremacist.
INTERVIEWER: What’s next on the horizon? Are there any other grammar trends we should be aware of?
CHARLES DeMize: Conjunctions I believe will be very important in the next year or two.
CHARLES DeMize: Yes, I firmly believe that the way we connect words has great societal meaning and that people will begin to choose their preferred way of doing so to convey their positions on a variety of issues.
INTERVIEWER: Do you mean conjunctions like “and” and “but”?
CHARLES DeMize: “And” is an inclusive conjunction. “But” is negative and often used to exclude or diminish others. For example, one could say, “I love cats and dogs,” or you could say, “I love cats, but I am a white supremacist.” Using the conjunction “nor” could imply arrogance, because it is something generally associated with 18th century British sea captains whose world view probably includes using ethnic slurs we wouldn’t even recognize today. The same goes for “whereas” and “yet.” “Provided” implies privilege since only those with provisions can provide for anyone and that would mean they had accumulated wealth that they arrogantly bestow upon others at their discretion, thus being at odds with a world view of equality, sharing, and mobs of people finding where the rich store all their stuff and just taking it.
INTERVIEWER: Considering that all words could have some kind of political or social meaning, even if we just said that saying a word is discriminatory against people who are unable to speak, do we find ourselves on a slippery slope in which no one will be able to say anything and if they do it will just be nonsense?
CHARLES DeMIZE: Speaking is discriminatory.
INTERVIEWER: It’s been a pleasure having you here today, Professor DeMize.
CHARLES DeMIZE: By saying it is a “pleasure” and then saying you “had me” means that you are a mental rapist violating me by projecting unwanted sex scenarios into your sentence.
INTERVIEWER: I apologize. Could you tell me what an appropriate sign off for an interview should be?
CHARLES DeMIZE: Yes. Say this next time: “…”
INTERVIEWER: I didn’t get that. What did you say?
CHARLES DeMIZE: I said: “….”
INTERVIEWER: You didn’t say anything.
CHARLES DeMIZE: Exactly.
INTERVIEWER: So, should we just stop speaking? Is that the most socially sensitive thing to do?
CHARLES DeMIZE: ….
INTERVIEWER: I get it. You’re saying nothing.
CHARLES DeMIZE: …
INTERVIEWER: So I should just stop saying anything too. I get it. And then we just kind of sit here and…
CHARLES DeMIZE: …
CHARLES DeMIZE: …
Like yoghurt, we keep it cultured actively.