When people hear the term neopronoun or some of the lesser used third-person singular there is often a push back or even outright refusal to acknowledge their validity. The idea that someone has to use a pronoun outside of the typical he/him/his or she/her/hers (even using they/them/theirs is sometimes viewed under the neopronoun umbrella despite its age) can sometimes come off as that person wanting to be special or different from others simply to be special or different as opposed to finding a pronoun set that fits them when others do not. Because of this, I’ve decided to go through a few of the most common questions I deal with on a fairly common basis in my work.
Please note that I do not have a complete list of neopronouns as there is no fully definitive list due to the personal relationship with these pronouns. This is a very 101 approach, providing a starting place for this topic and will include links that some people might find “less valid” than others such as Wikipedia’s entry (which is a great jumping off point for further study.
So, what is a neopronoun?
Per mypronouns.org: “The term “neopronouns” tends to refer to pronoun sets developed from the 20th century (or sometimes 19th century) to today. Many of them are actually not that new.” These are third-person pronouns in the same vein of he/him/his, she/her/hers, and they/them/theirs in the English language to provide examples. Within English and other languages, most third-person pronouns are gendered or denote a specific gender with some languages lacking a gender neutral third-person pronoun. Because of this, neopronouns are alternatives that can be used for either a gender neutral or gender variant third-person pronoun. While the third-person singular they has become more common (first used in the 1300s in a romance story “William and the Werewolf”) and is now accepted in multiple organizations as “proper grammar” despite it’s casual use in every day speech, it doesn’t always fit for what people need for their own pronouns.
Specifically speaking, “a neopronoun is a category for any English neutral pronouns that are independent from traditional third person English pronouns. In the strictest sense, a neopronoun is a pronoun which is not based on a noun (nounself pronouns), and is not he/him, she/her, it/its, or they/them.” (link)
Wait, so neopronouns aren’t new?
The more well known neopronouns are from the 20th century, but historically there have been two used since the 1300s, specifically ou and (h)a. For example, “ou will” could mean he will, she will, or it will. Ou derives from the Middle English (h)a which is a “reduced form of the Old and Middle English masculine and feminine pronouns he and heo.” (Yes, she used to be heo) Other examples are the use of “one” in the late 1700s, the singular they which has gone in and out of fashion over the centuries.
But there are so many to learn!
Not really, no one is expecting you to learn or even know all of the neopronouns or even their history. If you know someone who uses neopronouns, then yes it is expected that once you are told what they use for you to learn them, but again, that is for people you know and engage with. No one is claiming you need to go out into the world and ask every stranger you meet for their pronouns.
And if you can’t remember their pronouns, then use their name. It’s really that easy!
What about using “it” as a pronoun? Isn’t that insulting?
Some people use that pronoun set, and if you’re asked to use those pronouns with a specific person, then please use those pronouns. HOWEVER, only use said pronouns when asked to use them. It/Its is not for insults, degrading, or acting like someone is less human than others. It/its is most commonly seen used for children and animals, but some people also use it as their own pronoun set and while it might feel strange for us to use, that’s their pronouns and we need to respect that.
Neopronouns are so weird and are just made up for attention! Why should I use them?
Ok, so just how many neopronouns are there? How do I use them?
That’s a tough question as by their very nature a person could make ones just for themself, though that is not common. However, there are several websites and resources that are available for you if you want to see some of the more common ones and how they’re used.
“7 Things You Didn’t Know About The History Of Pronouns And Gender” Defining: Neopronoun (MyKidisGay.com)
English neutral pronouns (Nonbinary wiki)
Neopronouns (LGBTA Wiki)
“Nonbinary pronouns are older than you think” Pronouns list from Heterosexualisnotdefault
Spivak pronouns (Wikipedia entry)
Third Person Pronouns (Wikipedia entry)
“We added a gender-neutral pronoun in 1934. Why have so few people heard of it?”