Reflecting on the reflexive pronoun ‘themself’

Singular they has featured a few times in the lingua-blog world of late, with Motivated Grammar noting its antiquity and Language Hat linking to Language Hippie’s sensible defence of it. On a tangent to this issue, I want to look at the lesser known themself, the status of which I’ve been musing and tweeting about recently:

Gill Francis at Macmillan Dictionary Blog posed the question: Is there a case for the pronoun themself? The example she leads with, from a Bristol City Council leaflet, is a good illustration of the gap in standard English which themself would naturally fill. But because the word isn’t standard, people often avoid it. Or it doesn’t occur to them, or it’s strange and they’re unsure if it’s permitted. Et cetera.

Yet many people do use it. To see how and where, in more-or-less real time, you can browse Twitter search or SeeTweet. You can also view (mostly blogged) examples aggregated on Wordnik – whose themself page asks: “Did you mean themselves?” No, but thanks for asking!

The OED says themself was first recorded in the 14thC and was normal until about 1540, when themselfs began to take over – itself later superseded by themselves. It finds the word “apparently more logical” than singular themselves but acknowledges it’s “not widely accepted”.

Merriam-Webster’s Concise Dictionary of English Usage says that “since the 1970s or so it has been revived as a gender-neutral singular reflexive pronoun, taking the place of himself or herself”, and offers these examples:

Walking through Pilsen, the casual observer might easily think themself back in 1945 (London Times, 1990)

With the unselfconscious absorption of someone working something out for themself (J. Hoberman, Village Voice, 1991)

Robert Burchfield says that after its standard spell centuries ago, themself slipped under the radar only to re-emerge in the 1980s as a “remarkable by-product of the search for gender-neutral pronouns”. He concludes that it “can hardly be regarded as standard – yet.”

Burchfield’s caution is amplified in the Columbia Guide to Standard American English (1993), which deprecates themself severely as “substandard”, a “shibboleth”, and “limited to Vulgar English speech or imitations of it”.

Bryan Garner is less disparaging, noting in his Dictionary of Modern American Usage the word’s appearance in Canadian legislation (as anybody can see for themself; if a judge decides to recuse themself). But he points out that many people “bristle at the sight or the sound of it”, and that it therefore risks distracting readers.

I haven’t done a head count, but I did see some bristling when I mentioned it on Twitter. Yet themself appears in the writing of Emily Dickinson and F. Scott Fitzgerald, hardly peddlers of “substandard” English. It’s widely perceived this way, though: Macmillan Dictionary says most people consider it incorrect, while the Chicago Manual of Style calls it nonstandard but says “it has become common in speech and informal writing”.

I’ve used themself several times on this blog, albeit sometimes only to refer to it. Most recently, in a comment on my last post, I wrote about “whether the party purporting to apologise is deceiving themself or being disingenuous”. I might have rewritten the line – it’s a bit clunky – but when I went to insert the pronoun and found that themself came naturally, I let it be; opportunities to employ it are not all that frequent.

Irregular Webcomic #1769, by David Morgan-Mar

*

The increase in use of themself in edited writing is gradual but evident, as this Google ngram indicates:

The 1920s surge may be due to publication of The Real Dope (1919), a novel by Ring Lardner that uses the word at least 20 times. I found this out from the Corpus of Historical American English, whose bar graph has an even more pronounced spike; you can click on this one to read examples of themself from different decades:

The Corpus of Contemporary American English offers further data, including a genre breakdown. Spoken English is themself’s usual province – unsurprisingly, since it’s generally a more casual mode of expression.

Sometimes speakers say themself and quickly ‘correct’ themselves, or they say something curiously muddled like “it’s every man for themself”, or “the average citizen started literally arming themself or herself”. Again, you can click the pic to investigate further:

It’s interesting to look at what antecedents occur with themself. Usually it’s singular: often who, sometimes someone, everyone, nobody, or more specifically the person, the witness, the guest, the patient, etc. And occasionally it’s plural, for instance the families, the women, boys, the American people, or plural they, which makes one wonder why themselves wasn’t chosen.

The American Heritage Dictionary (5th ed.), calls singular themself “informal” and plural themself “nonstandard”. They overlap in instructive ways. Consider this example from NPR’s All Things Considered (1999):

Yeah, he was terrible. Mainly because there was no audience in those days. The networks didn’t allow audiences, and comedians had to play basically to the band leader or to themself (sic).

Although comedians is plural, each comedian in turn is what was meant, so themselves could erroneously imply that each comedian was playing to other comedians. Using themself retains the sense: it means each comedian was playing only to himself or herself – or to put it concisely, to themself. Using each comedian would have been less problematic, but we can’t always plan for such details in normal speech.

Here’s a similar case from COCA, this time with a more explicitly singular antecedent:

when you got your members, your delegates to vote to suspend the police commissioner or have them suspend themself…

This concerns a police commissioner suspending himself or herself; the gender is irrelevant or unknown, hence them – it spares us the ridiculous “have him or her suspend himself or herself”. So what reflexive pronoun follows? Themselves, being plural, doesn’t match the notionally singular them; themself was the convenient and rational option.

It’s not just informal language where themself would be of benefit. On his NYT blog After Deadline, Philip Corbett recently examined the following line: “Neither Mr. Bo nor Ms. Gu have been given an opportunity to defend themselves publicly.” He observes:

The neither/nor construction yields a singular subject and would require “has been given.” But that would create a problem with the reflexive “themselves.” So rephrase, perhaps like this: “Mr. Bo and Ms. Gu have not been given an opportunity to defend themselves publicly.”

As James Eagle points out, themself would fix that. And maybe it should. Mr Corbett’s suggested revision ties Mr. Bo and Ms. Gu closer together than is warranted in the context, since they are accused of quite separate transgressions. So the neither/nor construction is appropriate, and themself – were it standard – would slot neatly into the pronominal slot:

Neither Mr. Bo nor Ms. Gu has been given an opportunity to defend themself publicly.

*

Arnold Zwicky wrote about themself at Language Log a few years ago (hat tip to Lauren Hall-Lew), assembling snippets of commentary on the word from various usage authorities and reporting on its appearance in literature, journalism, and linguistics research (the last is “pretty sparse”). He says Burchfield is probably right in thinking singular themself is “the wave of the future.”

Neal Whitman agrees. In his do’s and don’ts for singular “they”, at the Visual Thesaurus, he says themself is “making a comeback”, and he recommends the following distinction: themself for singular they; themselves for plural they. This makes sense to me.

Sometimes usages we recoil from become normalised through use and exposure. So don’t write off themself too quickly if it rubs you up the wrong way. If on the other hand you already use it, I’d love to hear about that too.

Though our reach is modest, we all play a part in shaping the conventions of English usage. If we keep using themself, it may eventually become standard again. In the meantime, aside from contexts where house style restricts usage, each of us can choose for ourself.

Barrie England, at Caxton, quotes (and agrees with) Pam Peters’ Cambridge Guide to English Usage:

The singular reference in ‘themself’ obviously serves a purpose, especially after an indefinite noun or pronoun. If we allow the use of ‘they’/’them’/’their’ for referring to the singular, ‘themself’ seems more consistent than ‘themselves. We make use of ”yourself alongside ‘yourselves’ in just the same way. ‘Themself’ has the additional advantage of being gender-free, and thus preferable to both ‘himself’ and ‘himself/herself. It’s time to reinstate it to the set of reflexive pronouns!

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42 Responses to Reflecting on the reflexive pronoun ‘themself’

  1. Joel Wallenberg’s honors thesis, which figured prominently in my Language Log posting — Wallenberg, Joel C. 2003. A story of the American self: A case study in morphological variation. Stanford Univ. undergraduate honors thesis in linguistics. — is summarized here:
    Wallenberg, Joel C. 2005. A story of the American –self: A case study in morphological variation. Penn WPL 11.1.321-34. (link: http://www.ling.upenn.edu/~joelcw/papers/Wallenberg_PLC.pdf )

  2. Florence says:

    Whether it’s making a comeback or not, “themself” is stupid, wrong, ungraceful, and unnecessary.

  3. John Cowan says:

    For me, singular themselves is as cromulent as singular they, their, them and for the same reason: it is used when the antecedent is unknown (even if the gender is). Themself doesn’t make me twitch when I hear or read it, but I feel no need to use it. Everyone must decide for themselves on it.

  4. Stan says:

    Arnold: Thank you. I had wondered about this material after reading your Language Log post, and am delighted that a summary is available. The variation it reveals – both between speakers and within individual speakers’ own inventories – is very interesting.

    Florence: The word is non-standard, but in many contexts it’s not ‘wrong’. ‘Ungraceful’ is an aesthetic judgement with which some would disagree. Lots of words are ‘unnecessary’, yet we use them anyway and enjoy doing so. I’m afraid I don’t know what you mean when you call it ‘stupid’.

    John: That’s true, and there have probably been countless occasions when I’ve used themselves where I might just as well have gone with themself. Only recently have I begun to notice the latter in my writing.

  5. alexmccrae1546 says:

    Permit me a slight tangential reflection, somewhat related to the “themselves” vs “themself” debate* at hand.

    I’ve generally tried to avoid the overuse of the reflexive pronoun, “one”, as in say, “If one were to place one’s head in the guillotine ‘slot’, one might lose one’s noggin.” (Ugh!)

    Like “themselves”, “one” can serve as a convenient non-gender-specific term. But for me, it’s always sounded a bit on the snooty, or too formal side, and strangely bristling to the ear. Even though using serial “ones” in any given sentence is grammatically consistent, and technically correct.

    What say you folks?

    I tend to have always used “themselves”, in speaking and writing, rather than “themself’**, even if the object(?) within the sentence is singular. From the point of correct grammar, in this instance, I’d be in err, no?

    *Perhaps “debate” is a tad extreme, here? The discussion appears to boil down to a ‘you say toe-mate-toes, I say toe-mah-toes’ conundrum…. so ‘let’s call the whole thing off’. (HA!)**

    **Spell-check doesn’t appear to recognize “themself” as a legit word. Oh well, what do THEY know?

  6. Florence says:

    All because of paranoia about political/gender correctness, a whole bunch of people have gotten their drawers in a twist! Because we fear to offend (horrors!!) we’re going to mutilate the language?! There are better solutions.

    A few words from the New York Times Manual of Style and Usage: “… preferred solutions are those that spare the reader all traces of a writer’s struggle. Try the plural construction: ‘A doctor always bills his patients,’ for example, may be changed to ‘Doctors always bill their patients.’ Or rewrite the sentence so that no pronoun is required: ‘The doctor always bills the patient.’ ”

    Also, “phrases like ‘common man’ and ‘man in the street’ can often be replaced by ‘ordinary people’ or ‘the average person.’ The dual goal should be to reflect the equality of the sexes and to avoid any awkwardness that woul alert a reader [or speaker] to the effort involved.”

    Let’s try to preserve the English language.

  7. Florence says:

    “would” alert … sorry, one-handed typing!

  8. Stan says:

    Alex: One has its uses but it is, as you say, “a bit on the snooty, or too formal side”. It’s a pity. The French word on, which functions similarly, doesn’t have those offputting qualities at all. Grammatically, there’s nothing necessarily wrong with themselves with a singular antecedent – I imagine it comes naturally to a lot of people a lot of the time – but it would require careful monitoring in formal writing.

    Florence: Mutilate the language? My goodness. The NYT style manual suits the NYT; it doesn’t provide a solution to every problem of style, and it doesn’t apply to people’s usage around the world. Conventions of correctness differ from place to place, and they change over time. Themself was once standard – indeed, it predates themselves – and it might be standard again one day. In the post, I showed where it can help avoid ambiguity. Languages can’t be “preserved” unless they are dead.

    • Mar Rojo says:

      Stan, what do you say to Florence’s advice in the last part of this sentence?

      “The dual goal should be to reflect the equality of the sexes and to avoid any awkwardness that woul alert a reader [or speaker] to the effort involved.”

      Seems like fair advice.

      • Stan says:

        Mar Rojo: Yes, but those goals aren’t always compatible. Since the sexes aren’t culturally equal, the language reflects this imbalance. For example: when generic he began (relatively recently) to be replaced by he or she, s/he, they and so on, many readers found the gender-neutral alternatives extremely awkward. Some still do. A little necessary discomfort is sometimes unavoidable.

  9. wisewebwoman says:

    “Theyself” is a usage I have seen/heard. Maybe just out here on the edge of the Atlantic.
    To theyself be true, Stan. Not that you need any admonition from Iself to youself.
    XO
    WWW
    :)

  10. languagehat says:

    I like themself, occasionally use it, and hope it catches on.

    Whether it’s making a comeback or not, “themself” is stupid, wrong, ungraceful, and unnecessary.

    All because of paranoia about political/gender correctness, a whole bunch of people have gotten their drawers in a twist! Because we fear to offend (horrors!!) we’re going to mutilate the language?! There are better solutions.

    Let’s try to preserve the English language.

    Congratulations, I think you’ve filled out your Peever’s Bingo card completely!

  11. alexmccrae1546 says:

    Stan, I appreciate your feedback on the use of the pronoun “one”, and your astute observation re/ its equivalent, the Fr. “on”, not having that ‘snooty’ sounding vibe that the English “one” tends to project. Merci.

    Not having been majorly schooled, or mentored in grammarian rules, or parlance (other than basic grades-school instruction back in the Pleistocene era), I had forgotten the sentence structure term “antecedent” relative to reflexive pronouns, which you aptly provided in your reply. I used “object”, which is likely not technically correct. Oh well.

    Let’s face it, ‘one’ can never be too sure, can ‘one’? (HA!)

    @wisewebwoman. “Theyself”, perchance could be a precursor of the more common, “thyself”, although “theyself” implies a plural antecedent….. so there goes THAT argument. “Thyself”, for me, has a definite Biblical, or officious resonance, and if used in common parlance today, one might think the ‘user’ was channeling the prose of a Shakespearian ‘player’, or perhaps one of the Old Testament prophets. It has that arcane usage air about it.

    I’m curious on which “edge of the Atlantic’ do you reside? I’m guessing the west coast of Erin.

  12. Picky says:

    Could be that just as “none” can flip between singular and plural depending on circumstances, “themself” (my spellchecker doesn’t like it) and “themselves” might coexist in differently nuanced uses? They both seem fine to me, at least in anything but formal writing.

    Oh, and Alex, mate, I use “one”, and I’m only very slightly snooty.

  13. John Cowan says:

    But Picky, you’re English. What’s slightly snooty for you is right up the nose of the rest of the Anglosphere. (Don’t worry, we love you anyway.)

  14. Picky says:

    Yep, point taken. Snootiness does seem to be an unfortunate side-effect of chosen-people status. Just something we have to live with, I suppose.

  15. alexmccrae1546 says:

    Picky,

    You’ve earned the right to be ‘snooty’, old chap…… “slightly”, or ‘full snoot’.

    Mr. Cowan made a persuasive point re/ the almost innate right of the native-born English to be somewhat snooty in certain manners of speech, despite the rest of the English-speaking world kind of being critical of the highfalutin impression it projects.

    Great to ‘see’ you again on Stan’s fine blog, Picky.

    Hope you haven’t minded me referring to you as “Picky-squared” on that ‘other’ language site, of late. Just having a little fun w/ your “Picky Picky” moniker, ’tis all.

    No inference implied that you’re some kind of ‘square’. Far from it, mate. You are likely hipper, and more with-it than most folk half your age.

    Always appreciate your online musings, ofttimes slightly quirky, intricate turns-of-phrase, your enduring wit, and wise, often provocative commentary.

    Picky, give my best to the old gal, Her Royal Highness, for me. A remarkable sixty years on the throne….. and counting. If she has near the longevity of her dear mum, I trust bonnie Prince William is unlikely holding his breath re/ royal succession.

    Can’t wait for the upcoming Wimbeldon tennis tourney in your fair city. There’s a rumor afoot that they may be replacing the traditional Wimbledon turf w/ Kentucky blue grass, since the blue clay at the recent Madrid tournament was so popular……. NOT!

    Cheers!

    P.S.: –Picky, have you heard from Her Royal Terseness, i.e., Patricia The Terse, of late. I suspect she’s been twittering up a storm on John McIntyre’s Twitter page. Short-and-pithy is her online stock-and-trade, I’d have to say.

    I haven’t ventured into ‘Twitterville’, as yet. ‘Short and pithy’ are clearly anathema to moi.

  16. Picky says:

    No, Alex, I haven’t heard from Miss Terse. Of course, to get a comment through the software on JEMcI’s blog what one (!) needs isn’t terseness so much as the stamina of an ox. Or of H M, perhaps. I’ll pass on your good wishes to H M should I see her, although I probably won’t mention that you called her an old gal.

  17. Stan says:

    WWW: I’ve never used theyself (or Iself or youself) but now I have an urge to! Searching for it on SeeTweet suggests that its U.S. use is mostly in the east and in AAVE.

    Hat: Glad to hear your endorsement of the word: it has a certain appeal and value, I think.

    Alex: I find that one doesn’t always seem or sound formal, and I use it here sometimes without feeling that it comes across as snooty, or so I hope. Used repeatedly where you or we would do just as well, though, is a different matter. By the way, Wisewebwoman hails from Cork (the west of Ireland, as you suspected) but is settled in Newfoundland. I happily recommend visiting her blog, The Other Side of Sixty.

    Picky: Yes, I agree. Themself and themselves can “coexist in differently nuanced uses”; the study (PDF) to which Arnold Zwicky links in the first comment above reports this state of affairs.

  18. alexmccrae1546 says:

    Stan,

    Point well taken re/ the not-in-all-instances ‘snootiness’ of “one”.

    Stan, I dare say you’ve never given off nary a hint of ‘snootiness’ on this blog; so ‘Carey on’ w/ using “one” to your heart’s content.(As if you needed permission from me. HA!)

    I think my prime objection, where its use comes off as a bit annoying to the ear, would have to be the serial repetition of “one” in a singular sentence, as per my earlier example w/ the guillotine scenario.

    Got a wee chuckle this morning, relative to our “one” discussion, from a photo caption in an article re/ Queen Elizabeth’s 60th Jubilee celebrations, in today’s edition of the L.A. Times.

    Below an image of a London curio street stall, focused on a bevy of postcards, including a cheery portrait-like shot of Her Majesty, mid-reign, as the graphic on an ersatz queen-of-diamonds playing card, the caption reads:

    “A POSTCARD of Elizabeth among offerings at a shop in London. One can be famous without being a celebrity, can’t one?”

    In this case, ‘one’ would think a little noblesse oblige snootiness would seem appropriate. (HA!)

    Stan, thanks for that link to now-fellow-Canadian-former-County Corker, WWW’s blog. I read a few of here most recent articles w/ blogger comments, and just got an immediate impression of a very evolved, loving, engaged-in-life soul, who is so very open to sharing the seeming little things in life, which, if truth be known, make our lives all the more richer, and worth living to the full.

    I’m a little concerned that we haven’t heard from blogger Claude in a while. Hope she’s doing well, and just lurking.

  19. alexmccrae1546 says:

    Picky,

    Me thinks Her Majesty, Elizabeth II, wouldn’t get her tiara (or crown) all atwitter in being referred to as “old gal”, or ‘old girl’, for that matter, by a commoner, or more precisely, a ‘Commonwealer’, such as I. (Although one would never, I dare say, say such a thing to her, face-to-face. I gather she doesn’t suffer fools gladly.)

    (The “gal”, or “girl” bit could be taken as complimentary, yet admittedly the qualifier,”old”, kind of negates the allusion to youth implied by “gal”. Also “gal” has a bit of the pedestrian, common-man (or woman) air about it, unbecoming to a long-reigning queen’s highly exalted social status.)

    Now on the other hand, ‘old biddy’ might well get me a firm royal censure, just shy of a beheading. (THWACK! PLOP!)

    By-the-by, your take on JEMcI’s balky blogware is spot on…. “the stamina of an ox” required, indeed.

    And that’s no bull.

  20. Stan says:

    Thank you, Alex; I will Carey on as you suggest! I’m glad you visited WWW, and that you responded so positively to her writing and photos. She recently did a series of posts on words selected from the Dictionary of Newfoundland English, which is a treat for word lovers.
    It’s good of you to ask about dear Claudia; I’ve seen her in a few of my other regular stops, such as The Poor Mouth and Omnium.

  21. Picky says:

    H M assures me your neck is safe, Alex. There’s now a bit of doubt over your knighthood, however, I’m afraid.

  22. alexmccrae1546 says:

    Picky,

    Hmm… I concur, the knighthood thing would seem dubious, old chap, although Sir Alexander James McCrae does have a certain officious resonance about it, no?

    Why do Kipling’s opening lines from “IF” come to mind right now?

    If you can hold your head when all about you
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;

    Alas, long ago, I came to terms with never having the chance to become U.S. President (not a native-born Yank), and now my dream of being in the rarified company of the likes of Sir Larry Olivier, Sir Nick Faldo, Sir Michael Caine and Sir Sean Connery have been forever dashed. (SOB!)

    In my case, not being either an acclaimed actor, or a much-heralded champion pro golfer, would seem to put me at a marked disadvantage in the knighthood department. Dems the breaks, I guess.

    Frankly, me thinks delusions of grandeur are highly over-rated. And I’m far too tall to take on a latter-day Napoleon complex, anyway. (My French is passable, however.)

    I’ll settle for a Napoleon of the scrumptious, creamy-dessert-kind, thank you. (YUM!)

    Picky, did you manage to get yourself Thames-side yesterday for the grand 60th Jubilee regatta, w/ the reported thousand-plus water-craft accompanying HRM on that monstrous gold-gilded royal barge up (or down?) the storied ‘stream? (You likely viewed the whole pomp and ceremony on the tele, while sipping a fine single malt (or two) in celebration of the festive occasion.)

    I gather there were even a few manned Maori (replica) war canoes in the motley boat mix. I gather most New Zealanders still hold the Queen in abiding high esteem, and enduring affection. Although, the indigenous Maoris were treated as brutally, and unjustly as our much aggrieved Native Americans, by their first-contact British ‘invaders’.

    Oh well. Let’s just stay within the bounds of the living present, and celebrate the old gal’s six-decade-long reign, and keep political correctness out of the discussion.

    Cheers!

    @Stan. Thanks for the update on dear Claude. I’m relieved that she’s fairing well, and still blogging away.

    I feel guilty, as a native-born Canadian, that I’ve never made a trip out to Newfoundland/ Labrador, or any of the Canadian Maritime Provinces, for that matter. I know that the Newfies*, due to their relative geographic isolation, as islanders (not including mainland labrador, here), and the difficulty of their still-in-places wild terrain, have developed some interesting regional dialects and quirky words that often have linguistic echoes of the early first immigrants to the area, namely Scots and irishmen.

    Hearing some of today’s elder Newfoundlander raconteurs speak, you’d swear one was back in County Cork, or the Highlands of Inverness w/ that distinctive latent old-country lilt, and cadence of speech lingering even into this new century.

    *”Newfie” is sometimes taken by some as an insulting appellation. That was NOT my intent, here.

  23. Picky says:

    No, I wasn’t by the Thames, Alex, I’m at my rural retreat. On Sunday the village was full of street parties: masses of flags and bunting; masses of rain, of course; barbecues, wine, home-made cakes; the old songs. On Monday celebrations moved to the pub, with an afternoon of games for the children outside (rather less rain). At nightfall, flame leaping from village to village as the beacons were lit; and then the fireworks, red white and blue fireworks, filling the sky. A very jolly weekend.

  24. Eugene says:

    I read and replied to the previous blog in which your wrote, “whether the party purporting to apologise is deceiving themself or being disingenuous” – and I did not notice the word, “themself,” so it must be natural enough for me, though I don’t think I use it.
    There’s no easy answer to these situations where the paradigm has gaps. We don’t have a gender-neutral third-person singular pronoun, so naturally we don’t have a gender-neutral third-person singular reflexive.
    If you say/write “themself” you are partially agreeing with the singular antecedent while composing a compound that disagrees internally in number. If you say/write “themselves” with a singular antecedent, you are doubling down on the lack of agreement.
    Either solution is understandable, and these things tend to get worked out over time. Let’s check back in a hundred years and see what’s happening with gender-neutral language.

  25. Stan says:

    Eugene: I wondered at the time whether my use of themself would be noticed when I didn’t draw particular attention to it. Someone on Twitter made a point about ourself, after reading this post, without noticing that I had used it at the end. The meaning of these nonstandard words can be so clear as to render them entirely inconspicuous.

    I expect there will always be occasional discord between grammatical agreement and notional agreement in English, not least in third-person singular pronouns; as far as I’m concerned, the sensible money is on singular they. Then again, it’s been in common and literary use for centuries yet peevers still get upset about it. For their sakes, I hope they never find out about the early use of you.

  26. [...] and/or a guide dog (all in that order), the most useful thing a blind person (a blink) can do for themself is buy an iPhone or an iPad. (Not a “cellphone” and not a [...]

  27. The Ridger says:

    Coming late, but I say “themself” (and I think I always have, though who can trust what they think about their own language use?) when the antecedent is singular. I generally ‘correct’ it in writing to “themselves”, but I *never* like doing so. (Born in Tennessee, 10 years in army, 30 years in Maryland, fwiw)

  28. languagehat says:

    I generally ‘correct’ it in writing to “themselves”, but I *never* like doing so.

    Yes, exactly; same here.

  29. Stan says:

    Thanks for the report, Karen. I wonder how many people are in a similar position: using it instinctively but ‘fixing’ it in writing.

  30. [...] signals that one is a student, a young person (or young at heart), or someone who doesn’t take themself too seriously. Abrevs are like totes adorbs.— Emily (@emi_kat_sween) January 12, [...]

  31. [...] I had this comment by LanguageHat at the back of my mind. In any case, author and ex-copyeditor Scott Huler replied [...]

  32. [...] 2. Someone left to their own devices must take action themselves. [Or themself.] [...]

  33. […] similar) would be pedantic; themselves strikes me as awkward here, though I like singular they; and themself is rare, and does not occur to most […]

  34. […] written before about the reflexive pronoun themself, showing its history in English and potential to fill a semantic gap in the language. Once a […]

  35. ucclangcent says:

    Always interesting and thought-provoking, Stan.

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