Many people today are upset about the use of pronouns. As a brief refresher if the reader of this column doesn’t remember the reader’s experience in grade school, pronouns are one of the main parts of speech. Pronouns are used instead of repeating a name in multiple sentences that are in close proximity. Pronouns include I, he, him, her, it, me, she, them, they, us, we, and you, and there are also possessive pronouns, such as their, my, his, her, our, your, and so forth.
But don’t look for those words in this column. The writer of this column, Ben Williams, will not be using a single pronoun in the entirety of this column. And Ben Williams hopes that other people follow suit because pronouns are the devil’s playground.
Many people agree with this assessment. Take Wisconsin’s Kettle Moraine School District, which recently decided to ban pride flags and the use of pronouns in e-mails.
Kettle Moraine Superintendent Stephen Plum said, “the expectation is that teachers and administration will not have political flags or religious messaging in their [sic] classroom or on their [sic] person. This expectation includes Pride flags.”
Parents within the school district agreed with Plum’s approach. Parent Renee Brinkman said, “I’d like them [sic] to stay to the academic portion of it [sic] and any political views should stay at home at the dinner table.”
Already, the reader of this piece can see the imprecision in Renee Brinkman’s use of pronouns. Who is this mysterious “them” Renee Brinkman is referring to? Presumably, “them” refers to the teachers. Renee Brinkman should have just said teachers because by using pronouns, Renee Brinkman has made this reader think that Renee Brinkman may have accidentally been respecting the wishes of a non-binary person, thereby violating the policies of the Kettle Moraine School District.
Another parent, Christi Sturrock, said that “they’re [sic] going to be exposed to all sorts of aspects of the world, but I [sic] do think at especially elementary school age we [sic] should be protecting our [sic] children a little bit so that parents can take the lead on educating politically for their [sic] own children.”
With all due respect to Christi Sturrock, five pronouns is far too many to include in a single rambling sentence, and this author would expect better from Christi Sturrock given Christi Sturrock’s opposition to pronouns. Bear in mind, the Kettle Morraine School District policy states in black and white that “this expectation prohibits pronouns, political language, religious views, etcetera,” from e-mails sent by district educators. If the school district simply wanted to ban employees from including the employees’ preferred pronouns in the employees’ e-mail signatures, the school district could have easily said so. However, the school district has stated that pronouns are banned entirely, and the writer of this column applauds the school district’s position.
Precision is important, after all. Pronouns muddy the waters and make sentences confusing. For example, in President John F. Kennedy’s 1961 inauguration speech, President John F. Kennedy famously said, “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.”
This author gives President John F. Kennedy’s speech a C-. This author can barely understand what the sentence means. Wouldn’t the speech have sounded so much better if President John F. Kennedy had said, “Ask not what this country, the United States of America, can do for the person listening to President John F. Kennedy deliver this speech, ask what the person listening to President John F. Kennedy deliver this speech can do for the United States of America.”
The sentence is clear, the sentence is precise, and most importantly, the sentence flows beautifully, if you ask the author of this column.
Some people are going to have a difficult time adjusting to a new, pronoun-free world. Some people may even write this author angry e-mails, insisting that this author is incorrect and pronouns are useful.
However, as the saying goes, “let the male individual who is without sin cast the first stone.”