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Humanist Gender Neutral English (The Standard)

Two Heads Graphic Courtesy of ETFO Voice

Two Heads Graphic Courtesy of ETFO Voice

You might wonder why we need another article on gender-neutral English, and specifically the issue of non-gendered pronouns. Hasn’t this issue been beaten to death?  Yes and no. There are many articles on why we need gender-neutral and inclusive language, but it’s often either (a) specific cases advocated by one group (e.g., gender inclusive pronouns for trans people) or (b) generic summaries that cobble together lots of single-case examples to create a “guideline” for gender-neutral English. Neither provides a complete framework, and there are still many odd gaps I’m hoping to fill. In other words, this is a proposed standard for gender-neutral English, without being focused on the needs of any one group. Let’s call this Humanist Gender-Neutral English (HGNE) v1.0

BTW, you’re welcome to skip to the separate giant list of gendered words and their gender-neutral alternatives. No one will be offended.

Introduction

The problem I have with almost all modern approaches to anything in the social sphere; everything is that is tribal. Transgender people want to solve transgender problems. Writers want to solve writing problems. Business people want to solve…well you get the point. And of course there are people on the “other side” who think it’s all a waste of time. But the opportunity we have with GNI English is to simultaneously solve a number of problems that span gender, party and even age in order to have a coherent solution that addresses multiple issues simultaneously. And I hope we can do it all without focusing on any particular tribe, instead solving a general problem that has plagued English for generations.

And the first thing I’d like to do is move past other terminology and go with a more general sense of humanist and practical. Language is a technology, and like all technologies, it evolves naturally without any need for help from people like me. But sometimes, and this is one of those times, it needs a little help to avoid becoming even more convoluted and confusing than it already is. English is a hot mess. So let’s clean it up a bit.

Problems Addressed

To many this will be obvious, but for the sake of focus:

  1. Do we need to modify English at all? Of course we do. Politics aside, writing and speaking in English can be a real pain in the tuchus. See? I couldn’t even say it in English without using Yiddish. And more seriously, if you ever create business documentation or correspondence (I’m sorry), the lack of neutral options is incredibly time consuming and costly.
  2. What is the right overall framework to adopt? There are numerous neutral pronoun suggestions out there (meaning, a lot), none of which have succeeded in the USA or for English generally. However, almost all of this are point solutions, meaning pronouns only, and do nothing to solve other areas where binary language is problematic (e.g., chairman, manpower). And while there are collections and summaries of gender-neutral language guidelines, there is a staggering absence of a single, coherent solution. My goal here is to provide one such solution, and the only question is how to create it. And rather than reinvent the wheel, I’ve started with the pronoun-related work of others (as you’ll see below).
  3. Aren’t people already using “they?” As a pronoun, yes, and there’s nothing wrong with it other than an irritating grammatical problem with singular usage. In recent years, it’s even been adopted into style guides and dictionaries, which is great news. If that were the only issue, I’d say “they” fine and let’s just move on. But it’s only part of an overall solution, and in the context of any such solution, it doesn’t really fit (i.e., it can’t be used to solve issues with other areas of gendered language).
  4. How do we get it adopted? Good question. My focus is on non-political, practical issues, consistency, simplicity, etc., to avoid push-back to adoption, but it will still be a challenge.

So, how do we create a solution that addresses these issues? By using the following guidelines for HGNE:

Guidelines

I’ve tried to follow these guidelines for the proposed humanist model, but cannot emphasize strongly enough that improvement is always possible. If you think other guidelines would help, or have suggestions for a better proposal that meets these guidelines, let me know. In the meantime, the model should be:

  1. Unifyingly Humanist. I mean this both literally and figuratively. Whatever we choose as a model should unify us as a species and people rather than dividing us further into gendered or political tribes. It should for this reason take advantage of existing terms like humanity and hominid that indicate a common, shared existence that includes all of us.
  2. Simple. The goal here is to create a more neutrally humanist language for many reasons, while making the smallest number of changes so they’re easy to teach and remember.
  3. Internally Consistent. English is already a (wonderful) freakshow. We don’t need to make it any worse for non-native speakers to figure out what the heck is going on by creating a hodgepodge of partially adopted solutions.
  4. Linguistically Consistent. If we really want widespread adoption, we need to find solutions that fit within English less invasively than some current proposals. For this reason, I’ve avoided anything that doesn’t sound somewhat like existing nouns and pronouns.
  5. Clear in Writing & Speech. Here, for instance, is a good summary of neutral terminology. But you’ll notice it gets very awkward when you move from written to spoken usage.
  6. Apolitical. The model must not be intrinsically feminist or meninist, trans or anti-trans, liberal or conservative. Thus any current proposal that is highly politicized already is ignored even if it might be great on academic grounds.
  7. Flexible Where Appropriate. Flight attendant, for instance, eliminates the gender identity of the person, which then requires further elaboration in writing or conversation and wastes time. If you know the flight attendant is female and wish to say so, you shouldn’t necessarily need another sentence to do it. So rather than eliminating policeman or policewoman, we need a way to say police-something in a smooth and universal way, if we want to.
  8. Not Accidentally Gendered. This is hard, but for instance “hir” as a pronoun option sounds too much like “her” and thus feminist, and probably puts conservatives on edge. For a similar reason, “honom” was rejected in the Swedish “hen” version for sounding too male (in Swedish).
  9. Built on Prior Work. Much of what I propose here is borrowed from prior suggestions and models. This proposal is not about me being clever; it’s about all of us finding a solution we can agree on, and leveraging work that’s already been done by very smart people. Note that while I started this based on Wikipedia’s entries, Dennis Baron’s book, What’s Your Pronoun, provides a far more extensive overview. He advocates for “they” as the winning singular pronoun, but without extension to any more generalized solution.
  10. Elegant & Aesthetically Pleasing. This may seem subjective and arbitrary, but getting new things adopted by anyone is hard. Doing it if seems like a kludge or is jarring to the ear just makes it harder.

One additional consideration:

  • The solution should be widely encouraged, but not be mandated. If you want to use “they,” use they, but if you’re looking for a grammatically pleasing solution that can be adopted for general use in all contexts, there should be something else.

With all that in mind, the proposed solution follows. After this summary, a more detailed a background discussion is provided, including notes on remaining challenges and a sincere solicitation for input—please help me make this better, so we can put it to actual use in the real world.

If you want more background on prior proposals before jumping into this, check out Wikipedia’s articles on gender neutral language, gender neutral pronouns and the Swedish pronoun Hen, UN linguistic guidelines, Dennis Baron’s book (this dude loves his pronouns), and of course anything else you think is helpful.

The New Humanist Solution

In 1982 or so,  writer and publisher Sasha Newborn proposed a “humanist” gender-neutral model that I’ve used as the basis for some of what follows (specifically, pronouns). Similar efforts (use of the same or similar pronouns) were later made by Dr. DeAnn DeLuna and earlier by Donald Darnell and Wayne Brockriede. None of them made much headway at the time (no one ever has), but a lot has changed in the intervening years. So without further ado, here’s how I’ve updated and expanded these prior models to make English better for everyone:

Gender-Neutral Pronouns (hu/hum/hus)

Use the pronoun root hu” as the foundation for all neutral pronouns. This is derived from humans in order to be unifying, non-gendered and humanist:

hu /hyo͞o/ nominative pronoun: used to refer to any human being when gender is unknown, unstated, or non-binary; neutral equivalent of he or she

hum /hyo͞om/ accusative pronoun: neutral equivalent of him or her

hus /hyo͞oz/ possessive pronoun: neutral equivalent of his or hers

The word “hu” is pronounced just like the first part of “human”. For reference, this is how the current English (non-neutral), English augmented by “They / Them”, Swedish (neutral), and new humanist models compare.

Pronoun System Nominative (Subject) Accusative (Object) Possessive
Adjective
  (Pronoun)
Reflexive
English
Today
he worked
she worked
it worked
I hugged him
I hugged her
I hugged it
his head (his)
her head (hers)
its head (its)
himself
herself
itself
Swedish
Neutral
hen worked I hugged henom hens head (hens) henself
Singular
They/Them
they worked I hugged them their head (theirs) themself
Humanist
Neutral
hu worked I hugged hum hus head (hus) humself
Humanist
English
he worked
she worked
hu worked
it worked
I hugged him
I hugged her
I hugged hum
I hugged it
his head (his)
her head (hers)
hus head (hus)
its head (its)
himself
herself
humself
itself

The Swedish neutral is shown here solely for reference to a system that has worked and gained wide adoption overseas. We obviously cannot use hen in English because everyone would want to eat their words, and vegans would object.

Using Hu as a Pronoun

Current English Humanist English
“What was he or she wearing?” “What was hu wearing?”
“I love him.” “I love hum.”
“I have two of her paintings.”
“The car is hers.”
“I have two of hus paintings.”
“The car is hus.”
He should take care of himself. Hu should take care of humself.
They [singular] should eat more.
They [plural] could drink less.
Hu should eat more.”
They could drink less.”  (No change)

Pros & Cons of Hu

Among the pros are:

  1. It’s derived from existing words that include all of humanity.
  2. It’s derived from neutral words without gender, though the etymology of “human” does lead back to man. I’m hoping this is not an issue, because we’re all human beings at this point. I don’t think anyone considers “human” to be a gendered slur. Even words like “American” used to mean American man, but are now generic. So, in full disclosure, hu is more precisely derived from words that are currently and I assume forevermore gender neutral.
  3. It’s easy to spell and pronounce.
  4. It doesn’t have the singular usage issues of “they”
  5. And it’s part of an overall, consistent system extending well beyond the pronoun issue.
  6. It meets all other guideline criteria.

I guess one disadvantage (con) is that hu is pronounced like the name Hugh, but I’m sure he’ll get over it.

Gender-Neutral Nouns & Affixes

The following examples are meant to cover most but not all cases, and all input on suggestions is always welcome.

  • Recommendations are in green.
  • Stuff we should get rid of is struck-through.
  • Words that aren’t true equivalents and should not be used as such are shown in red.
  • Words where there is already a viable default (e.g., actor) are shown with a (D), generally meaning we should just use that universally and get rid of alternatives including hom.
  • Suggestions shown in bold are meant as preferred defaults when there is no need to use a gendered word (in other words, use that option unless there’s a reason to use another).

BTW, an affix is just a prefix or suffix. Didn’t mean to get fancy there.

Nouns & Affixes for Adults (hom/homs)

This refers to the use of man or woman as a noun, prefix or suffix. Use instead “hom” as a neutral alternative for adult man or woman, as both noun and affix where appropriate. This is derived from hominid (our primate family), and also alludes to the unifying prefix hum- in humanity.

hom /häm/ noun or affix: generic alternative to man or woman

homs /hämz/ noun or affix: plural of hom

Hom is pronounced just like the first part of “hominid.” Having this new term allows use a universal generic substitution for any use of man or woman as a noun or affix, meaning it can replace or augment all existing options. So if you’re ever wondering how to make “longshoreman” gender neutral, you have the answer: it’s longshorehom. Of course it sounds weird now, but you’ll get used to it. If you’ve read this far, I’d like point out how hard it was not to follow that last sentence with “That’s what she said.” This is a serious topic. Focus. Yes, I’m talking to myself.

Gendered Nouns & Phrases (Man or Woman)
Noun Current Humanist
Nouns
Adult Human Man
Woman

Adult or Person
Man
Woman
Hom
Adult or Person
Adult Humans Man
Woman

Adults or People
Men
Women
Homs
Adults or People
Phrases
Common Man Common Man
Common Woman

Average Person
Common Man
Common Woman
Common Hom

Average Person
Odd Man Out Odd Man Out
Odd Woman Out
Odd Man Out
Odd Woman Out
Odd Hom Out
Using Hom as a Noun

A few selected examples are provided below. Note that in some cases, even if (when!) hom is adopted for general use, other options such as “one” or “anyone” might be just a viable in some constructions.

Current Humanist
“The man crept down the dark hall.” “The hom crept down the dark hall.”
“If any man or woman is subjected to sexual harassment, it is your duty to report your concerns to HR.” “If any hom is subjected to sexual harassment, it is your duty to report your concerns to HR.”

“If anyone is subjected to sexual harassment, it is your duty to report your concerns to HR.”
“That woman really likes cheese.” “That hom really likes cheese.”
Nouns Gendered by Suffix

This is a partial list (See the full list). The same logic and model apply to these words apply to all words with man as a suffix, or with woman as a suffix, as well as their plural versions. If you find any words that need more detailed treatment, let me know.

Also, hom is not always the right answer; where possible, I would strongly suggest we just use a generic term for most cases and get rid of extraneous gendered options (e.g., just use actor, always, and nuke actress). But if that doesn’t work (e.g., longshoreman), hom is still there as a universal alternative.

Word
or Phrase
Singular Plural
Anchor (News) Anchorman
Anchorwoman
Anchorhom
Anchor
-men
-women
-homs
Anchors
Assemblyman Assemblyman
Assemblywoman
Assemblyhom
Assemblyperson
-men
-women
-homs
-persons, -people
Businesswoman Businessman
Businesswoman
Businesshom
Businessperson
-men
-women
-hom
-person, -people
Cameraman Cameraman
Camerawoman
Camerahom (D)
Cameraperson
-men
-women
homs (D)
-persons
Chairwoman Chairman
Chairwoman
Chairhom (D)
Chair
Chairperson
-men
-women
-homs (D)
Chairs
-persons, -people
Common Man Common Man
Common Woman
Common Hom
Common Person
– Men
– Women
Homs
-Persons, -People
Clergyman Clergyman
Clergywoman
Clergyhom
Minister
Pastor
-men
-women
-homs
Ministers
Pastors

And so on. See the full list.


Using Hom as a Suffix

These are just a few examples. In general, while “hom” can sound a bit awkward at first, it is far more efficient and cogent in general usage.

Current Humanist
“All members of Congress must attend.” “All congresshoms must addend.”
“The chairman or chairwoman will call role.” “The chairhom will call role.”
“Given that meteorologist is a different profession, please refer to the weather person as a weatherman or weatherwoman going forward.” “Given that meteorologist is a different profession, please refer to the weather person as a weatherhom going forward.”
Nouns Gendered by Prefix

This is arguable a more awkward and lower category of words where change will difficult if most impossible. While words like manslaughter are unarguably gendered and thus biased (as if only men commit this crime), the alternative neologism “homslaughter” will take some getting used to. We probably should do it, but it will be more of a battle than for terms that negatively impact women given the current political environment. And in some cases the new word is shown in green strike-through, meaning it’s just a bad idea to even try or it serves no purpose.

And as with suffixes, this table does not cover all cases where women or men are used as prefixes (or their singular versions).

Word
or Phrase
Singular Plural
Fraternal Fraternal
Sororal
TBD
NA
Fraternity Fraternity
Sorority
TBD
+ Panhel
Fraternities
Sororities
TBD
+ Panhels
History History (D)
Herstory
Hustory
Hxstory
Histories (D)
Herstories
Hustories
Hxstories
Manhandle Manhandle

Homhandle (D)
NA
Man-hour Man-hour
Woman-hour
Hom-hour (D)
Man-hours
Woman-hours
Hom-hours (D)
Manhunt Manhunt
Womanhunt
Homhunt (D)
Hunt
Manhunts
Womanhunts
Homhunts (D)
Hunts
Womankind Mankind
Womankind
Homkind
Humankind
NA

And so on. See the full list.

Using Hom as a Prefix

A few examples:

Current Humanist
“A manhunt is underway for a woman named J. Tarley.” “A homhunt is underway for a woman named J. Tarley.”
“She committed manslaughter.” “She committed homslaughter.”
“That will take a lot of manpower.” “That will take a lot of hompower.”

“That will take a lot of labor.”
Pros & Cons of Hom

The Pros include:

  • Fewer misused words. In considering all these options, I’d strongly suggest going for the generic “hom” vs. having to find some other word you may or may not remember in context. For instance (unless a precise word is already available), some people have gone from calling dock workers stevedores instead of the gendered longshoreman, but how many people even know the word? And why didn’t they just go with dockworker? To solve one problem, the effort to find existing generic words often creates another, but this issue is avoidable using the generic hom.
  • Vast time and cost savings. As another reason to consider adoption of this neutral standard, consider just the time and cost that the Marines have (laudably) spent in changing dozens of job titles from masculine to gender neutral (e.g., “riverine assault craft crewman” to “riverine assault craft marine”). Think how much less time and how many tax dollars could have been saved if they’d just swapped out every use of the word “man” with “hom”. It would have taken thirty seconds (minor exaggeration 😉 ). Now consider this for every job title in every branch of the government and military, including documentation and manual updates, etc. The actual costs are, probably, staggering (but good luck finding out). If you’re for smaller, more efficient government and lower taxes, you can bury your head in the sand or see the changes that are coming — and address them as systematically as possible. Just sayin’.

The Cons. Hey, it’s not perfect.

  • You’ll notice that if the preceding letter is a T or S, I’ve kept hom separate from the preceding stem rather than creating a single word (e.g., sales hom vs saleshom) due to obvious pronunciation issues.

Nouns & Affixes for Children (Hem/Hems)

Use “hem” as a neutral alternative for children or adolescents as noun or affix instead of boy or girl, where appropriate.

hem /hem/ noun: neutral alternative to boy or girl

hems /hemz/ noun: plural of hem

Hem is pronounced just like the edge of a piece of clothing (i.e., the hem on a dress).

Word
or Phrase
Singular Plural
Boy Toy Boy Toy
Girl Toy
Hem Toy
Plaything
Boy Toys
Girl Toys
Hem Toys
Playthings
Girl Boss Boss (D)
Girl Boss
Bosses (D)
Girl Bosses
Cabin Boy Cabin Boy
Cabin Girl
Cabin Hem
-Boys
-Girls
– Hems
Girl Friday Boy Friday
Girl Friday
Hem Friday
Boys Friday
Girls Friday
Hems Friday
Romantic Partner Boyfriend
Girlfriend
Hemfriend
+ Partner, Significant Other
Boyfriends
Girlfriends
Hemfriends
+ Partners. Significant Others, etc.

This covers the most common cases. See the full list.

Using Hem in Practice

A few examples:

Current Humanist
“Whose boys and girls are these?” “Whose hems are these?”
“I wish I had a boyfriend or girlfriend.” “I wish I had a hemfriend…or two.”
“My partner’s late. They’ll be sleeping on the couch tonight.” “My hemfriend’s late. Hu’ll be sleeping on the couch tonight”

Alternative Suffixes (-Um)

This covers all cases where man, woman, boy or girl is not the gendering suffix. Use -um” for any such words (e.g., -ess, -ette, -or) to create a non-gendered alternative. Or, if easier, just eliminate unnecessary gender distinction. This gives us a few options that can be selected on a case-by-case basis, or mixed and matched as needed.

-um /əm/ suffix: generic alternative for any gendered suffix other than “-man” or “-woman”

ums- /əmz/ suffix: plural of -um  

Which option is chosen will depend entirely on social inertia and resistance. There is no one right answer; there is only the easiest way to get to a better overall solution. So, as shown here, it might be harder to make “waiter” gender neutral than to create a new word, but it might be easier to keep using “flight attendant.”

Word Singular Plural
Alum Alumnus
Alumna
Alumnum
Alumni (D)
Alumni (Alumnae)
Alumni
Actor Actor (D)
Actress
Actrum
Actors (D)
Actresses
Actrums
Author Author (D)
Authoress
Authum
Authors (D)
Authoresses
Authums
Aviator Aviator (D)
Aviatrix
Aviatrum
Aviators (D)
Aviatrix
Aviatrums
Bachelor Bachelor
Bachelorette (Spinster)
Bachelum
Bachelors
Bachelorettes (Spinsters)
Bachelums
Baron Baron
Baroness
Baronum
Baron
Baroness
Baronums
Comedian Comedian (D)
Comedienne
Comedium
Comedians (D)
Comediennes
Comediums

And so on. See the full list.

You’ll notice that there are few if any cases other than “bachelum” (which makes me happy for some reason) where an alternative generic word does not already exist. If this is the general case, -um can be tossed out and ignored. It’s just not needed if removing it can simplify things. I’m ignoring all royal and noble titles like emperor-empress, king-queen, prince-princess, lord-lady and so on for now, but please let me know if you’d like to see these addressed–or if they already have been elsewhere. I suspect the lord-lady one is the only one that matters, but I assume women in the House of Lords are still “lords” in a generic sense (actually, it turns out they’re called Baronesses). It’s a rabbit hole.

Special Cases: Other Words & Phrases

These are gendered words that are do not include boy, girl, man, woman or other common affixes. Or their different in some other way; hence, exceptions. This is by no means a complete list, but hopefully covers enough to get the conversation going:

Word
or Phrase
Singular Plural
Gendered Relationships
Child Son
Daughter
Child
Sons
Daughters
Children
Grandparent Grandfather
Grandmother
Grandparent
Grandfather
Grandmother
Grandparent
Marital Partner Husband
Wife
Spouse
+ (Life) Partner, Significant Other
Husbands
Wives
Spouses
+ (Life) Partners, Significant Others
Parent Father / Dad
Mother / Mom
Parent
Fathers / Dads
Mothers / Moms
Parents
Parental Paternal
Maternal
Parental
Paternal
Maternal
Parental
Parental Sibling Uncle
AuntAuncle
Pibling
+ Zizi, Bibi, Nini, Titi
Not Solved
Uncles
AuntsAuncle
+ Pibling
Not Solved
Sibling Brother
Sister
Sibling
Brothers
Sisters
Siblings
Sibling-hood Brotherhood
Sisterhood
Siblinghood
Brotherhoods
Sisterhoods
Siblinghoods
Sibling Child Nephew
Niece

+ Nibling, Niephling, Chibling, Sibkid, etc.
Nephews
Nieces

Niblings
Gendered Job Roles & Titles
Bride Bride
Groom
TBD
+ Marrier, Celebrant
Brides
Brooms
TBD
+ Marriers, Celebrants
King King
Queen
TBD
+ Quing, Majesty?
Kings
Queens
TBD
+ Quings, Majesties? 
Lord Lord
Lady
Lodum
+ Liege
Lords
Ladies
Lodums
+ Lieges
Midwife TBD
Midwife
TBD
TBD
Midwives
TBD
Master Master
Mistress
Maistrum
+ Mastress
Masters
Mistresses
Maistrums
+ Mastresses
Nurse Murse?
Nurse
Nurse / TBD
Murses?
Nurses
Nurses / TBD
Wizard Warlock, Wizard
Witch, Wizard
Witch, Wizard
+ Sorcerer, Magician, etc.
Warlocks, Wizards
Witches, Wizards
Witches, Wizards
+ Sorcerers, Magicians, etc.
Gendered Groups
Dude / Guy Dude / Guy
Chick / Gals
Homie
Dudes / Guys
Chicks / Gals
Homies
+ Thude + Thudes, Folks, People, Humans, Everyone / Everybody, Y’all, Peeps, etc.
Ladies &
Gentlemen
Gentleman
Lady
Adhom
+ Guest, Distinguished Guest, etc.
Gentlemen
Ladies
Adhoms
+ Everyone, Guests,
Distinguished Guests, etc.

And so on. See the full list.

Using Special Case Suggestions
Current Humanist
“Welcome, ladies and gentlemen.” “Welcome, adhoms.”
“What up, dudes?” (to group of men)
“What up, guys?” (to mixed group)

“What up, ladies?” (to group of women)
“What up, homies?”
Discussion

As with all systems, this one is not (yet?) perfect. Here are some things not yet addressed because they are corner cases in the wonderful world of English linguistic evolution. Also note that some groups advocate using the neutral terms here by default (when they exist), but that’s a cultural and not grammatical issue.

Aunt and Uncle. Although some have suggested the terms “auncle” or “pibling,” no gender-neutral term has really caught on for describing the sibling of your parent. And none seem likely to.

Husband and Wife. Partner exists for those who want to express a serious adult relationship that may or may not be formalized by law, but it’s still frustrating and awkward. Partner, for instance, can now refer to a business or personal relationship, and is often confusing without additional context. Significant other just sounds labored. And there’s no way to distinguish between committed marital relationships and less committed or formal relationships (e.g., man-friend vs. husband). Are there better options?

Midwife. Yes, there are male midwives; however, given the related challenges and controversy around this, I doubt any generic term can be adopted in the near future.

Nurse. The word “nurse” is a grossly and irredeemably gendered term based on a biological function of which men are incapable. There is no way to make this term gender neutral, so a new term is needed. What is it? I don’t know. But expecting male nurses (murses?) to feel included in this career until a better name is found is a bit absurd.

Adhoms (L&G). This is suggested a neutral alternative to ladies & gentlemen. See discussion of Sir or Ma’am (below) for origin and details.

Group (Homies). It once was and often remains acceptable to call a group of mixed gender or even all women “guys,” but this is not universally true or safe. I don’t know of anyone who says “gals” for all-women groups, though “What up, bitches?” gets used informally. In the southern USA, of course, there is the “y’all” alternative, as in “What up, y’all?” or “How y’all doing?” but this is looked down on outside of the south (for historical and somewhat elitist reasons). It’s also insufficient, as no one says “What are those y’all doing?” instead of “What are those guys doing?” Maybe “What are they-all doing”? I’ve suggested “homies” here because (a) it’s already a gender-neutral group term (b) it perfectly fits with the “hom” of this framework and (c) people already like the word. I realize it means friends or community, but with a little flex it can work perfectly. Still, I’m open to thoughts and other suggestions.

Humanist Honorifics

This honorific seems to be handled in that Mr. can mean any male, Ms. any female and Mx. any person of any gender (pronounced “mix” or “mux”), but this has not been widely adopted, and part of the problem is I think aesthetic. Have we as a culture decided that adding “x” to a thing (a) makes it neutral and (b) is aesthetically pleasing enough not to be jarring and encourage adoption? I’m not sure. The situation with formal salutations (e.g., Dear Sir or Madam) is even worse.

Word Singular Plural
Mr. / Ms. Mr.
Ms. (Mrs. / Miss)
Mu.
Mx.
NA
Sir / Madam Sir
Ma’am / Madam
Adhom
Sirs
Ma’ams / Madams
Adhoms

Using Honorifics

Current Humanist
“Dear Mr. Johnson:” (male customer)
“Dear Ms. Johnson:” (female customer)
“Dear Customer:” (unknown)
“Dear Mu. Johnson:” (any)
“Dear Sir or Ma’am:” “Dear Adhom:”

“To whom it may concern:”
“Excuse me, Sir. Where’s the restroom?” “Excuse me, Adhom. Where’s the restroom?”

Discussion

Adhom. As a neutral alternative to Sir or Ma’am, Adhom is suggested by combining “ad” with “hom” to give the word a sense of elevation and formality, kind of like admiration (not speaking etymologically).  There is to the best of knowledge no other alternative in usage. Adhom sounds a bit like ad hominem, but I doubt that’s a major issue, and given the identical pronunciation, it might even be helpful.

Royal Honorifics. To the best of my knowledge, Your Highness, Holiness, Honor, Grace, Lordship, Majesty and Worship are all gender neutral (except Lordship?).

Gender Neutral English Q&A

You mean everything isn’t clear and perfect in every way? Fine.

Q: Should we use gender-inclusive language even when genders are known?

A: An argument can be made that making language more inclusive can include not using anything but neutral language except when absolutely necessary. I tend to think this is a bridge too far, but it remains a valid question for many and I’m sure those many will have strong opinions on the subject; fortunately, it doesn’t matter in this context. As long as the word exists (my goal here), deciding how and when to use it can be left to better minds.

Gender-Neutral English Resources

This is a work in progress, but for now, this is what’s available on this site:

What’s Next?

First, if you have any questions, comments or criticisms, please let me know in the comments below. All civilized input welcome. Second, if you agree this new humanist (gender neutral and inclusive English) can be useful, promote it. Put it in practice. Send others here to learn and engage. And thank you.

Peace

2 Comments

  1. Suellen

    Hadn’t heard of Hu before. Interesting article. Caused a bit of “discussion” when I posted on Facebook that I liked the use of Hu as a humanist, gender neutral pronoun. “Lost” a family member along the way . Oh well…..

    • Comment by post author

      Shawn C. Butler

      Hi there. Well, first, thank you for taking the time to read about all this and even share it — I can’t tell you how much that’s appreciated. So sorry to hear about the family conflict. I’ve had similar experiences, and they’re always both surprising and disappointing.

      If you have any feedback or thoughts from the discussion, they’re always welcome. Thanks again.

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