I often hear people say "she" when they refer to a user of their application, for example. In documentation, or in email. Why do we say "she", why not "he or she" or "they"? I am not a native speaker, maybe this is a trivial question, but I do not know the answer.

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    When I see that I think it's to help make up for centuries of patriarchal assumed "he"s. – Digital Chris Feb 21 '14 at 18:21
  • It might rather depend what the "application" is. Google claims 75,000 hits for "he plays grand theft auto", but only 5,000 for "she plays grand theft auto". – FumbleFingers Feb 21 '14 at 18:54
  • Sometimes you might also see "(s)he" and any number of variants on this, implying that either pronoun is applicable. – zzzzBov Feb 21 '14 at 19:37

It is something, in the U.S., that has developed as a result of "Political Correctness." Previously, the pronoun "he" was used nearly exclusively (barring the use of "they").

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  • Ships have been called 'she' since time immemorial! – WS2 Feb 21 '14 at 18:28
  • Political Correctness... you are spot on. – d'alar'cop Feb 21 '14 at 18:30
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    To add to this answer, many times designers/developers will make use of "user stories" which involve the creation of a hypothetical user and that user's interactions with the software. When you add in a bit of back story the use cases become more compelling than simply saying "a user opens the widget". Most products don't need to target users based on their sex, so user stories for most products should be evenly balanced. – zzzzBov Feb 21 '14 at 19:35
  • I haven't paid much attention to manuals, but there is certainly a trend in two-player situations to make one male and one female, so that pronouns work. – Andrew Lazarus Feb 22 '14 at 2:33

Because using "he" all the time is sometimes considered sexist. Since we don't have a gender-neutral word to use, sometimes people use "she" or just alternate the two in their writing.

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    We do have a gender-neutral word to use. It's 'they'. – Barrie England Feb 21 '14 at 18:42
  • @Barrie, yes, but a lot of people are uncomfortable using singular "they". – Roger Feb 21 '14 at 19:11
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    Also "thon". qwantz.com/index.php?comic=2079 – Kyle Strand Feb 21 '14 at 19:45
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    Then that's just too bad. – Barrie England Feb 21 '14 at 19:49
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    @HC: in some dialects of English, since the fourteenth century. And since then, despite the disapproval of prescriptionists who looked to Latin for what should be grammatically correct, it has never gone completely out of use. – Peter Shor Feb 21 '14 at 21:19

I think it might just relate to the reference of a person who uses it even though it is not correct. Females tend to use "he," and males often employ "she." It indicates the gender bias of people. The academic form to use is "he/she" or simply "user."

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  • Outside of the current climate of Political Correctness, I don't know of any gender bias of male programmers that leads them to assume their user is female. – Oldcat Feb 22 '14 at 0:32

It's just a flip on "he."

PC? Probably.

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It might be because of the stereotype that men are considered to be "providers" for women, and since most software developers are men, the word "she" is used to refer to a user because the application is "provided" to the user.

It might also be because a "user" in the software development world is generally considered to not be very technically savvy, and the existence of the stereotype that women are less technically savvy than men.

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  • Highly unlikely. Twenty years ago, the pronoun would mostly have been "he" and gender stereotypes are much older than that. – David Richerby Feb 22 '14 at 0:19

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