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I know this more in line with Etiquette (which is only a proposal), but it's been bugging me for a while, and I'd like some clarification.

When referring to others on this site (and many others, including forums, chat rooms, etc.) sometimes, online handles of users may not reveal gender. For example, taking user @Robusto, if I were to never click on his profile page, how would I refer to .....yeah.

If I'd like to reference @Robusto somehow (pretend I'm thanking @Robusto for @Robusto editing my question)

"Thanks to @Robusto for editing my question, he really helped me out."

or

"Thanks to @Robusto for editing my question, she really helped me out."

or

"Thanks to @Robusto for editing my question, they really helped me out."

or

"Thanks to @Robusto for editing my question, it really helped me out."

What do I do in this case?

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marked as duplicate by FumbleFingers, tchrist, MετάEd, aedia λ, Kristina Lopez Feb 12 '13 at 14:52

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

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@Retrosaur: I normally use he for someone of unknown gender, but, when referring to a specific person whose name you know, I would rather not. It is either rude or "funny". They is unsatisfactory for other reasons. She is a bit silly if he turns out to be a man. So there is no real solution. I often either avoid pronouns or use something like the OP or whoever did it. Or I just repeat the name. –  Cerberus Feb 11 '13 at 22:36
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Robusto is in fact, secretly a programming project of Jeff Atwood's. It's especially important not to call them it, because Jeff takes the Turing test failures really hard. –  Jon Hanna Feb 11 '13 at 22:55
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@user37324: This is actually one of those few situations where he/she may be the best option. –  Cerberus Feb 11 '13 at 23:40
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@Cerberus: I believe I've been wont to refer to you as "Ma [main] man" here on ELU. I shall squirm indeed if you now announce you're actually female! –  FumbleFingers Feb 11 '13 at 23:45
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Let the record show that the last time I checked I was neither female nor a robot. But if I were a secret programming project of Jeff Atwood's, I could easily be mistaken about those things. –  Robusto Feb 12 '13 at 2:08
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2 Answers 2

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Thanks to @Robusto, who really helped me out by editing my question.

Thanks to everyone. You really helped me out; especially @Robusto for editing my question.

You can often reword around these questions and either have something that works well, or think of something even better. (The second is better if thanking everyone is, worse otherwise).

Otherwise, just use epicene they. If it's good enough for Shakespeare, Thackeray, George Eliot, Walt Whitman, Elizabeth Bowen, Lawrence Durrell, Doris Lessing, C. S. Lewis, Oscar Wilde, Jonathan Swift, Daniel Defoe, Frances Sheridan, Oliver Goldsmith, Henry Fielding, Maria Edgeworth, Percy Shelley, Lord Byron, William Makepeace Thackeray, Sir Walter Scott, Charles Dickens, Anthony Trollope, John Ruskin, Robert Louis Stevenson, George Bernard Shaw, Lewis Carroll, Rudyard Kipling, H. G. Wells, F. Scott Fitzgerald and the King James Bible, then it's good enough for you.

Thanks to @Robusto for editing my question, they really helped me out.

At least here, where if anyone was to criticise it, someone would come along and point out that great writers had been doing the same thing for the entire history of Modern English.

(In fairness, Samuel Taylor Coleridge would have argued in favour of it, though as far as I know, he only argued one should be able to use it, rather than actually did so).

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Thanks to everyone. You really helped me out; especially @JonHanna for answering my question. –  thinly veiled question mark Feb 11 '13 at 22:51
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One of the basic ideas of using a handle is to overfly petty (irrelevant) considerations as gender, and focus on business.

Never attempt to use gender specifics and the like in the presence of handles, not even 'politically correct' artifices.

Rephrase, restructure, or just repeat:

"Thanks to @Handle for editing my question; @Handle really helped me out."

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