A man’s word is his bond.
It’s an aphorism. States a pithy truth, along the lines of, “When someone makes a promise, he keeps it.” This one floats a model of behavior, an ideal. Not a command, exactly, but it has hortatory weight; exhorts by affirming. It’s a cheer for honor and integrity.
Does this aphorism exclude women? What about: A person’s word is his bond? Or: One’s word is his bond? “His” keeps appearing! One’s word is one’s bond finally unhitches the saying from gender, perceived or implied. Now it’s universal and indiscriminate. In other words, aphoristic. But the matter isn’t closed.
“Man” and “his” may sound too biological to be inclusive. Defaulting to masculine forms where universal application is intended may look like sexism prescribed by male grammarians. A woman’s word is her bond states an equal truth, of course. So does One’s word is her bond. The neutral “one” allows the pivot to either gender — as long as the selected morpheme is singular. I’ve given emphasis to this last condition because it’s widely challenged now.
Many English speakers now might say or write, One’s word is their bond. The possessive call-back to “one” morphs into the plural. It crosses the number boundary. In so doing it transgresses an established norm of syntax, one that prescribes gender and number matching between sets of morphemes:
he, him, himself, his
she, her, herself, hers
it, its, itself, its
they, them, themselves, their
The crux of the matter is this: The only person English distinguishes for gender is the third-singular. An example of breaching such match-up is a statement such as The woman cut himself. Most speakers would deem it nonsensical. Many speakers, however, are receptive to a statement such as When a person cuts themselves (or themself?), infection is possible.
Transgendered phraseology takes advantage of the fact that English has an all-encompassing, third-person plural pronoun. I infer that using it reflects linguistically a drive to achieve parity between the sexes in society; also, to escape pigeonholing or disclosure of gender identity imposed by language.
I’m led to review familiar terminology of the language world I inhabit:
Person: first (speaker), second (spoken-to), third (spoken-about)
Number: singular, plural (Arabic adds dual)
Gender: masculine, feminine (German adds neuter)
Animacy: animate, inanimate
It’s to be noted that in theory transgendering is possible within the established bounds of number by saying When a person cuts itself. In practice, it appears, our notion that we’re human is more deeply embedded in our psyches than a quibble over how many we are. If one sins, so to speak, let it be against number and not animacy.
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