Pronouns: A Surprising History

The quest for a gender-neutral third-person singular pronoun might seem new, but it’s not. In fact, the linguist Dr. Dennis Baron has compiled research on dozens of proposals for gender-neutral pronouns in English, with some efforts dating back hundreds of years.

Here’s just a small taste of what Dr. Baron found while researching his book, What's Your Pronoun?

In 1792 a Scottish economist and philosopher by the name of James Anderson called for use of an “indeterminate” third person singular pronoun,” like ou that could refer to either a man or a woman.

In 1901, A woman identified only by initials L.M. wrote to the London Daily Chronicle to protest the lack of a “bisexual” pronoun, describing it as “one of the great evils of our time.”

In 1931, A. A. Milne, the beloved children's author and creator of Winnie the Pooh, asserted, “If the English Language had been properly organized . . . then there would be a word which meant both ‘he’ and ‘she’. Milne proposed using the word “heesh” for that purpose.

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To learn more about the surprisingly long history of gender-neutral pronouns, check out this engaging New York Times review of Dr. Baron's findings.

English's Pronoun Problem is Centuries Old

Enjoy a thought-provoking reflection gender-neutral pronouns and the controversies they provoke from the author of this NPR piece, a self-described “grammar geezer.”

Opinion: Even a Grammar Geezer Like Me Can Get Used to Gender-Neutral Pronouns


Baron, Dennis. What's Your Pronoun: Beyond He & She. New York: Liveright Publishing Corporation, 2020.

Moran, Joe. (2020, January 21). English's Pronoun Problem is Centuries Old. New York Times.

Nunberg, Geoff. (2019, August 6). Opinion: Even a Grammar Geezer Like Me Can Get Used to Gender-Neutral Pronouns. NPR.

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