It’s the season to look at singulars and plurals, prefixes and suffixes

IT has been a standing joke that newspapers are always caught unawares by Christmas – as far as time off and staff rotas have been concerned. But increasingly, since balanced editorial has been overtaken by money men and advertising staff, those hackneyed pre-holiday features have been appearing ever earlier.

This year is a bit different of course. Restaurants and pubs, traditionally advertising their Christmas lunches for office parties, groups of friends, clubs, etc, have been hanging fire, waiting for the latest Governmental proclamation on what’s going to be allowed.

So instead we at the Fine Times Recorder will give a grammar lesson for the December Leader?

It’s all about what is singular and what is plural, what is the latest go-to prefix and the essential suffix.

If you have awakened – or woke as we now call it – to the glaringly intrusive dawn of the new acceptable behaviour, you will have realised that nothing can be taken remotely seriously unless it has “self” on the front and “gate” on the end. Incredibly, the “gate” suffix dates from 48 years ago, when Richard Nixon was embroiled in the Watergate scandal. Watergate was the name of a building in Washington DC where the break-in occured. Since then journalists have tacked the word “gate” on the end of every conceivable conspiracy or suspected scandal.

And what about “self”? We are encouraged to “self isolate” if we haven’t been sufficiently careful about “self distancing”. Who, might I ask, can you legally isolate if not yourself. If you try it you’ll be at risk of prosecution for unlawful imprisonment of another person. Similarly if you try to distance someone else without their agreement, it might be seen as assault.

Then you could “socially distance,” which either assumes that society is now an individual, rather than a collective entity.

I have been avoiding a Leaderly Rant for months over this, but was finally tipped over the edge when I looked up who was the most famous person born in 1685 and found this gem on line.

“Johann Sebastian Bach is the most famous person born in 1685. They were born on a Wednesday.”

The composer went, in the course of two sentences, from being a single entity to a multiple one. May we assume that the writer has discovered the previously unsuspected fact that Bach, reputedly father of more than 20 children, had at some stage decided to transition from binary pronouns?

It is super-dangerous to express an opinion about gender reassignment and transitioning, as JK Rowling, Suzanne Moore – and many others – have discovered.

So let’s just look at it from a grammatical point of view. There are singular pronouns and there are plural pronouns. I for one don’t care if people want/need to identify as a man, a woman or a zebra.  But if there is one of them, they need a singular pronoun. Unless we go all Pullmanic, when each of us has his/her own daemon so can justifiably be described as they/them, we humans can hop from sex to sex (or probably gender to gender) or stay in the middle, but we urgently need some new words to describe ourselves.

I can’t just decide to be called they or them, unless I am claiming schizophrenia … or should that be self-bi-polargate?


Gay Pirrie-Weir