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Before I begin, I'd like to point out that my primary interests aren't actually in literature/linguistics, but within the domain of music. However, I have come accross a problem I feel is of much concern and is in essence a problem with the (English) language, in part that is, not as a whole.

Anyway, I am writing a song about a person who is climbing a mountain, but they are doing so both physically, and then metaphorically. This is a song that is supposed to represent human weakness and strength, and so naturally that includes both men and women.

The lyrics go something like this:

1.2-2 Oh...

2-3 Will he...

3-4 Sur-vive?

4-5 and climb this

5-6 Mounta…ain ?

5.2-6 He will do

6-6.2 One

6.2-7 Of only two things

7-7.2 He

7.2 - 8 Will fail and fall into the dark

The lyrics presented are not meant to be grammatically correct, to me they just need to represent the words to fit the song. Also, the numbers are just units of time, but that doesn't matter here.

So, as you can see, I used what I think is a pronoun, the word 'he', to generalise the term to both males and females. Now, whilst this is common practise, I do not think it is good practice, so I was wondering if there may be another, ideally single syllable word, that one could use to describe both males and females.

I feel that such a word really should be integrated into the English language, as it would be much more effective than s/he, or even worse, just he.

marked as duplicate by tchrist, Mari-Lou A, Chenmunka, Community Aug 3 '15 at 1:11

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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    Search for "singular they". You can probably find a question to close this as a duplicate of if you look. – snailboat Aug 2 '15 at 0:21
  • Hello. I did look, both on Google and SE. The closest thing I found was a few articles distinguishing the difference between gender exclusive and gender inclusive languages. Thanks for the suggestion though, I shall apply it. – user108262 Aug 2 '15 at 0:23
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    I meant "if you look [for 'singular they' by searching English.SE]". I didn't mean to imply that you didn't do any research before asking the question. – snailboat Aug 2 '15 at 0:26
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    Hi @user108262 and welcome to ELU! Could you possibly use 'you' or 'I'? – Julie Carter Aug 2 '15 at 0:40
  • Is this a chorus or a verse? I know sometimes the chorus will change gender, usually because the subject of the verse is a different gender. – Catija Aug 2 '15 at 0:53
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Would a "soul" work? eg: There's only so much a soul can take... This sounds poetical to me, so I've likely seen it used that way -although nothing springs to mind at the moment.

  • "If a body catch a body comin' through the rye..." (Robert Burns) – W9WBH Aug 2 '15 at 0:54
  • If I try these out with your lines though, seems your still going to have to use "it" also, which I think you're looking to avoid? Will a soul survive... It will do one of only two things... – W9WBH Aug 2 '15 at 1:09
  • "I" and "you" are neutral of course... and could avoid "it" – W9WBH Aug 2 '15 at 1:13
  • Oops - just noticed someone already said that above. – W9WBH Aug 2 '15 at 1:19
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There are a few ways to do this in English -- one, you, they (as already pointed out), someone, a body (as already pointed out), we, a guy, a person, an individual.

That was for your general information. For your lyrics, I support the I or You as already suggested, to fit the rhythm.

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This is a song that is supposed to represent human weakness and strength.

So you're looking for a pronoun to suggest a common humanity; the weakness and strength that we all share?

Then we would seem to fit the bill (it's already been suggested by others). It will also fit the scansion of your lines.

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The word "ze" has been proposed as a gender-neutral replacement for "he" and "she". It actually has developed some currency with young people, although it's not widely known or used in wider society.

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