“A driver should not use their cruise control in rainy weather.”
“Anyone in their right mind wouldn’t eat moldy cheese.”
Are these incorrect? Shouldn’t “their” be replaced with “his or her?”
We all have heard this in everyday speech. Perhaps we have been corrected in our writing.
My husband’s field, Philosophy, answers the issue by simply using “she” or “her” in any writing. The reasons are efficiency and to combat sexism (as most readers expect a “he” when either “he” or “she” can be used. Using “she” helps people make mental images of females in examples).
Surprisingly, Merriam-Webster.com has “their” listed as such:
2 : his or her : HIS, HER — used with a singular antecedent that is indefinite or that does not specify gender <anyone in their senses — W.H.Auden> <we shall be pleased to send a free specimen copy … to a friend or relative on receipt of their address — London Calling>
I’ve seen them apply this usage in a recent newsletter.
Years ago I would have been miffed at this “degradation” of the English language. Now I applaud it. Efficiency is beauty, and taking gender bias out of writing is helpful in making the world a better place. “Their” fills both these needs. Let’s do it. But if a person wants to be a stickler for “proper” English, it is their prerogative.