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Is it correct to write:

He wants to explain X concept to the layman, not before warning him ...

Or should I write:

He wants to explain X concept to the layman, not before warning him or her ...

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Why not 'layperson'? –  user19148 Oct 8 '12 at 21:42
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Obviously your first suggestion is entirely correct. The masculine includes the feminine and "him or her" is unnecessary. Unless you are insecure or wallowing in political correctness. –  Andrew Leach Oct 8 '12 at 21:43
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@Carlo_R. I like your suggestion. If I mean "non-expert" or "non-professional", is 'layperson' really common? So, the solution would be "He wants to explain X concept to the layperson, not before warning him" ...? –  c.p. Oct 8 '12 at 22:01
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More common to say "He wants to explain X concept in layman terms..." The later construct "not before" overcomplicates the sentence, it might be better to rephrase that. Do you simply mean "after"? –  Chris Oct 8 '12 at 22:02
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Jorge, "He wants to explain X concept to the layperson, not before warning whom ..." is better. –  user19148 Oct 8 '12 at 22:23
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2 Answers

up vote 0 down vote accepted

The easy (and for once not inelegant) solution is to evade the issue by using the collective:

He wants to explain X to the laity, not before warning them ...

EDIT Since use of laity in a non-religious sense has excited considerable comment, I note that OED 1 dates it back to 1832, citing the Jurisprudence of John Austin, a leading philosopher of law:

The laity (or non-lawyer part of the community) are competent to conceive the more general rules.

And for those who object to grounding an argument on the usage of a lawyer, I offer the greatest modern master of English prose style:

All professions are conspiracies against the laity. —Bernard Shaw, Preface to The Doctor's Dilemma

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That's right -- no more disrespectful than does "lay". "Laity" is the collective term for all lay persons; it is employed in the literal sense by religious writers (including those in the Church), and in the figurative sense wherever there is a clear distinction between experts and everybody else. If anything, disrespect is imputed in the other direction, when a writer wants to suggest that the experts take an inflated view of their status. –  StoneyB Oct 8 '12 at 22:47
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Right, it doesn't sound disrespectful, just a bit more religion-related. If it's not about the Church, then people sometimes use "amateurs" or "civilians", both fairly informal, or "nonprofessionals", more formal. –  user21497 Oct 8 '12 at 22:49
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Language use is a bitch. Words seem not to matter to so many speakers & writers until some word pushes their buttons, & then the sky falls. Everything said & written in English these days is indisputably disputable & has been exceedingly so since the 1960s. We're told in biomed that we must say "A patient with [disease X]" rather than "A [disease X] patient" because the latter makes it sound as if [disease X] is a personal trait (e.g., "a diabetic patient") rather than a temporary state of being ("fisherman" vs. "fishing man" vs. "sleeping man"). Makes writing tough sometimes. –  user21497 Oct 8 '12 at 23:40
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@BillFranke: Haha, ridiculous. PC-ness sucks. Just refuse! –  Cerberus Oct 9 '12 at 0:57
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This comment thread is now getting auto-flagged for its length. Everybody is reminded of our chat. Here, things that are not directly related to the answer will have to be deleted. Thanks. –  RegDwigнt Oct 9 '12 at 9:43
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I would suggest either using layperson and using either him or her or them which can be used as a singular.

Historically, he can be used to mean he or she, but nowadays I think it's less acceptible due to changing tastes and English being a living, changing language. I've also seen she used meaning he or she and I think that's fine but inelegant.

I would use he or she/*him or her* or they/*them*.

The singular-they has been used in English for a long time, and I think ultimately offends fewer people than just he or just she.

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