University of Minnesota’s pronoun prescription

Not using someone’s preferred pronoun — “whether it’s he, she, ‘ze’ or something else” — could become a disciplinary offense, escalating up to firing and expulsion, at the University of Minnesota under a proposed policy [Maura Lerner, Minneapolis Star-Tribune] I’m quoted as saying that although protecting transgender members of its community from purposeful insult or breach of privacy is a legitimate purpose, the university is likely to fare poorly in court if it presumes to punish community members for not using new-coined gender pronouns on demand [Sarah George, The College Fix]:

“As a public institution with an educational mission to uphold, Minnesota can appropriately make some demands of its members, such as respecting norms of collegiality, refraining from insult, observing consistent standards in filling out paperwork, and so forth,” Olson told The Fix via email.

“But this does not constitute a blank check to police and punish language use generally, especially not in politically charged areas of speech, and most especially when the policy departs from viewpoint neutrality to side with some controversial views over others.”…

“Before presuming to force university members to mouth or endorse politically controversial language as a condition of keeping their jobs or remaining enrolled, the university must show that such coerced expression is essential to its functioning as an educational institution. It has not, and I suspect cannot, made such a showing,” he said.

Earlier on pronoun prescription: Canada, New York City, Oregon, more.


  • The First Amendment precludes an organ of the state from dictating what the English language is.

    A person with a Y chromosome has been a “he.” Enforcing made-up word usage isn’t the mission of the university. If I were a University of Minnesota student, I could be expelled for writing that?

  • What they are asking is essentially impossible. There are 40,000 students and staff at a single university. Of the people you encounter you will rarely know their names or even their marital status never mind if they are gay or trans or “queer” of “gender fluid” whatever those are. Plus, the proposed gender pronouns are nonstandard, are made up, and are allowed to be specific to a particular person and even change over time. Many people are completely unaware of the whole “pronoun” controversy. Thus even if you were inclined to bow to the PC gods, complying correctly in the face of tradition and lack of information is not possible.
    Pronouns are used to refer to someone in the third person, usually when they are absent: “he will be back soon”. What about titles (Mr etc)? How do these people propose to be addressed? The list of “pronouns” does not ever include forms of address: “This is Mr. Smith” so one doesn’t even have an option to use.
    Finally, for many trans people in college, their gender appearance will be ambiguous. This is ripe for misunderstanding. Again, it assumes knowledge you do not have. Are we to go around asking people their gender? I’m sure that can’t be problematic. Do funny gender people wear special pins or hats?
    The whole thing is insane, unworkable, and forced political compliance in the worst Orwellian sense.

  • Especially when it comes to the ungrammatical “singular they” (in modern usage) and made-up words like “ze”, this is a nightmare. The solution is never to talk to or about “transgendered” individuals.

    I used to think people were crazy when they talked about a “slippery slope” in granting more rights to transgendered people.

    The real victims here are people with actual, physical, gender problems. People who are XXY ( or have Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome ( It is important when pushing back on self-proclaimed “non-binary” folk who want to police our Language not to treat people with actual, physical, gender identity problems badly.

    • Robert, the singular they has a pedigree centuries old. It is and effectively always has been perfectly grammatical.

      • It was *never* used when referring to a specific, known person. Never. While an exchange like

        ” When is the repair person arriving?”
        “They’ll be here at 9:00 AM”

        is used commonly today and in the past, you’d never say:

        “Ask Pat. They know the combination to the safe”

        which is what a “they-pronounced” person wants. A person who speaks Standard English has to do a lot of discomforting mental juggling to parse and form sentences like this.

        • Are you saying the correctness of the grammar changes based on whether I personally know Pat’s gender? Is that really how grammar works?

          In any case, I’ll agree that different people have different opinions on this, and nobody should be forced to say something that the believe is either grammatically or factually incorrect.

  • There a story about a University of Michigan student who, when asked by the university for his preferred pronoun, replied “His Majesty.”

  • How are people who grew up in the Fifties, Sixties, or even Seventies supposed to remember, much less understand, or be able to comply with, all this “pronoun” lunacy?

  • My preferred pronouns are “Your Eminence” and “His Eminence”. Use them or else…

  • As long as we’re making them up, can mine be Xjqhz?
    I play Scrabble a lot and this would be very helpful.

  • “Qwigybo” would be mine.