Jun 27, 2008

rolling back the gender-neutral tide

Facebook can't handle gender-neutral pronouns anymore. Not because of problems with English, but because of problems in translation:
Users who haven't specified their gender in their Facebook profiles will be asked to do so in the coming weeks. That way, Facebook doesn't have to default to "their" or the made-up word "themself," as it had been doing.

While not knowing someone's gender poses grammatical challenges in English, it has created even larger headaches as Facebook expands to other languages, where a gender-neutral option isn't available in plural form.

"People who haven't selected what sex they are frequently get defaulted to the wrong sex entirely," Naomi Gleit, a Facebook product manager, wrote Friday in a company blog.
I still the the general trend in English is greater tolerance for "their" and "themself." If other social networking sites pick up the change, though, perhaps we'll see a return to fully gendered pronouns as the only acceptable choice.

We leave aside the syntactic ambiguities in the article's headline: "State sex to cut grammar errors."

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