He’s good value, that Gwynne chap. Two posts out of one little book which I haven’t even read.
In his preface, Gwynne explains about his use of pronouns. He notes that ‘he’ used to be used for ‘a member of the human race of either sex’, but now is found offensive by ‘some people’ (here, he implicitly compares these overly sensitive people to those sensible women who used to use ‘he’ ‘without hesitation or objection’). He (rightly) says that ‘he or she’ is ‘disagreeably clumsy’, but then irrationally dismisses singular ‘they’, a perfectly elegant and simple solution with good historical pedigree. His dismissal is based on nothing more than the ‘authoritative’ opinion of a style guide and Simon Heffer, who is a journalist, and whose work has been called ‘staggeringly erroneous’ and inconsistent by, you know, actual authorities on language (=linguists). So, he says, he will avoid generic ‘he’ where it is possible to do so, so as not to potentially annoy those namby pamby sensitive readers. However, avoiding it completely is beyond even Gwynne’s considerable writing skills, and so sometimes, he must use it to avoid awkwardness. He says,
Please be assured, therefore, on the few occasions that you see the all-embracing ‘he’ or equivalent, that it is occurring without any offence being intended.
Oh, well, that’s all right then. If he doesn’t mean any offence, there won’t be any offence. Permit me to make an extreme analogy, which I’ll put under a readmore as it contains highly offensive language (the ‘n-word’).