Southern Swattie: Pronouncing Two Heads

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Hello. Hola. Hey. Hi. Greetings and salutations. Howdy (because I feel compelled to be stereotypical in this instance). If your preferred the greeting term wasn’t listed feel free to pretend it was and respond accordingly. Welcome to the Southern Swattie column: your textual Venn diagram linking Swarthmore to the American South. As the title of this column suggests, I am both from the South and a current Swattie. Coming from the same state as Elvis and the law about not being able to catch a catfish with a lasso (Tennessee) is all well and good, but I needed a change in scenery—at least for the time being.

Now, I could talk about how using the remains of prehistoric flora and fauna to fuel our 21st century traveling machines is bad but I don’t have to conform to the interests of society until after my undergrad education has reached its fruition. Instead, I’m going to talk about pronouns.

Don’t stop reading yet.

Grammar: It’s fun in an overcomplicated, bane-of-any-ESL-speakers kind of way. Without proper grammar I wouldn’t be able to use colons or designate arbitrary genders to inanimate objects.

It is a bit different in the South, grammar. And no, I’m not referring to the liberal use of the word “ain’t” or the nonexistence of the letter “g” at the end of many a present tense verb. I’m referring to gender pronouns: he, she, and they for all zero of you reading this and not knowing what pronouns are.  Below the Mason-Dixon line, pronouns weren’t something that you gave much mind to. A guy was “he,” and a girl was “she.” In English class, referring to one person as “they” implied they were a horrible two-headed abomination against nature. I’m inclined to blame that on the sorry lack of a gender neutral, non-plural pronoun. We have “it,” but who calls a human being “it” besides evil alien invaders from sci-fi B-movies?

At Swarthmore it’s something to be asked about, not in any obtrusive way but just to make a mental note for future encounters. It’s an odd idea to me, even though asking someone what they prefer to be called seems like a rather obvious thing to do in retrospect. I suppose it’s just because I’m used to simply assuming. Simply assuming can work just fine in most cases—chances are a girl will be okay with being referred to as “she” and “her”—but asking just to make sure seems like the difficult answer to a deceptively obvious question. How do you make a line of 100 pieces of rice shorter without changing it? You make a second line with 101 pieces of rice. What words should you use to refer to someone else? You ask them.

A friend of mine pointed out that there are an awful lot of “theys” at Swarthmore. It takes some getting used to, mainly because my brain is still hooked on the “growing a second head” idea. I’ve been here three weeks and I can’t remember how many times I’ve had the conversation, “What’s his pronoun? He’s a ‘he’ right? He’s a ‘they’? He’s — I mean they’re — pretty cool.” At the same time, though, I can’t imagine anyone else being overtly familiar with the concept of asking someone what they’re preferred pronoun is. I don’t think the South alone should be singled out as a place that distinctly doesn’t do that; the distinction, I think, should be given to places like Swat that seem like they would be in the minority with this particular behavior. I feel like if anyone did that outside of a select few locales people would look at them sideways and label them weird. That’s what would happen if I did that back home, at least. Of course, I have no way of knowing what’s it’s like outside of my own frame of reference. Maybe Junction City, Kansas is chock-full of “theys.”

I can’t say whether or not I’ll ever be a “they.” I can see the significance it would have to other people, but I’ve never been the kind of person to define myself as anything other than “me” because labels are for people who aren’t delightfully pretentious. I like the idea that people come here and grow into that way of viewing themselves, but I’m quite fine with “she” and “her” for the time being. It’s not something I’ve thought about, and since saying someone’s name too many times in one conversation is a mark of a psychotic stalker, I’m okay with being referred to by the pronouns that have been allotted to me. So call me Briana (it rhymes with banana), or call me “her” or “she.” You can even call me “they.” Maybe I’ll grow another head spontaneously from my shoulders once you do so — seems like it’d be fun company at least. Maybe I’ll even get the brain that’s good at math.


  1. I’m an international and I am pretty sure they do that in most of the English-speaking world…

    fun fact: pronouns in other languages are EVEN WACKIER like did you know all the pronouns in Chinese are pronounced the same?

    • Also fun to note that in Chinese, all pronouns were originally written the same; gender distinctions only arose in writing after contact with western cultures.

  2. After reading the first half a paragraph of this article in the Gazette email, I could tell immediately who had written it. You know why? Because I recognized the same atrocious writing style from that shoddy op-ed in the Phoenix. At least the content of this article wasn’t as downright devoid of critical thought as the one in the Phoenix, but the writing immediately displayed the same bizarre combination of aggravatingly pretentious and weirdly conversational. Honestly, this reads like a middle-schooler’s LiveJournal post.

    Take the first sentence with any content whatsoever: “If your preferred the greeting term wasn’t listed feel free to pretend it was and respond accordingly.” What are you even talking about? Why are you writing as though your audience is speaking to you? What is the point of that entire sentence? And it just keeps going. What on earth is a “textual Venn diagram”, besides a couple of fancy words strung together to make the writer feel smart? And then this: “Now, I could talk about how using the remains of prehistoric flora and fauna to fuel our 21st century traveling machines is bad but I don’t have to conform to the interests of society until after my undergrad education has reached its fruition.” I had to read that a couple of times before I figured out that you were talking about fossil fuels, and I still can’t figure out what that has to do with “conform[ing] to the interests of society”, or why college students are somehow exempt from that. The writing is just impossible to make heads or tails of. And while we’re being smarty pants here, I’d like to point out that petroleum is made of plankton and algae, not “the remains of prehistoric flora and fauna”. (Plankton are sometimes animals, but algae are neither animals nor plants.) Ordinarily I wouldn’t belabor that point, but since the author is being so pedantic, I feel entitled to be as well.

    And that’s all before the writer even gets to the actual topic of the article. Like I said, at least this article isn’t the one in the Phoenix – that one was a tired and obnoxious argument about how the author just can’t make the effort to not use offensive language and how the problem is just that everyone here is too darn sensitive. I was so upset that the Phoenix doesn’t have an active comments section like the Gazette, because oh, how many Swatties would have gladly torn into the author for that one. (The two people I pointed out that article to both literally threw down their papers in disgust.) But that conversation is for another time. Fortunately, the horrific writing persists into this article, so my opportunity to rag on that aspect has been presented to me on a silver platter. The content of this article is far less objectionable, but that’s because there is hardly any content. It’s just “Huh, people at Swarthmore ask about preferred gender pronouns. People don’t do that in Tennessee.” Guess what: People don’t do that in any state I know of. People ask for PGPs at Swarthmore, at other liberal arts colleges, and in specifically queer-oriented spaces, and that’s about it. Please attempt in the future to write articles that actually contribute to the discussion.

    I could go on and on criticizing this article, but really I’ve gone on long enough, and frankly, that should have been the editor’s job. This article is better than the one in the Phoenix in a lot of ways, but it still is far below the professionalism that I expect from Swarthmore’s student publications. I know the author is just a freshman, and I do feel a little bad for ripping into a new Swattie so hard, but really, basic writing skills are something you should have learned in high school. This isn’t a blog, and even if it were a blog, it still wouldn’t be worth the effort to slog through the horrific prose in order to get to the tiny morsel of content.

    • It’s sad that Strunk felt the need to personally attack a freshman on the DailyGazette because Strunk doesn’t like or agree with this freshman’s point of view on gender pronouns and political correctness.

      There are plenty of worse-written articles in the DailyGazette but never have I seen one person so aggressively try to deconstruct every little bit of someone’s writing in such a profoundly negative way.

      FWIW, I like Briana’s writing style. It’s clear and light-hearted and easy to read. It could be better, but it could be worse, too. At least it’s not convoluted and pretentious like many freshmen tend to do.

      At the end of the day, Strunk posted a long and obnoxious screed against a freshman writer when there is absolutely zero precedence for this. He/she claims that they are doing this out of concern for the quality of Swarthmore publications, but personally I find this very hard to believe.

      • This really is about the writing style, not about the content. As a white cis person who does not consider myself particularly liberal or political, I don’t usually take strong stances on gender pronouns and political correctness. I don’t feel like it’s my place. And as far as I can tell, Briana doesn’t take any strong stances on these issues either, yet she feels qualified to write entire articles about her lukewarm and muddled opinions. She appears to take no position whatsoever in this article, and her position in the Phoenix article consists mostly of a vague whining rather than any coherent political statement.

        But I’m intrigued. You say this writing is NOT as pretentious as that of other freshmen? Please, direct me to some worse articles! The only reason there’s no precedent is that I don’t usually read the Gazette – I only commented on this article because I was so upset about the writing of the one in the Phoenix. I will gladly provide my services to any other poorly written articles you find for me, cross my heart!

        • “atrocious writing style”

          “shoddy op-ed”

          “devoid of critical thought”

          “aggravatingly pretentious”

          “weirdly conversational”

          “like a middle-schooler’s LiveJournal post”

          “horrific writing”

          “horrific prose”

          “basic writing skills are something you should have learned in high school”

          No vitriol and meanness here at all.
          No unnecessary put-downs here at all.
          No condescension or smugness here at all.

          It’s fall semester of freshman year and she doesn’t know that algae/plankton can be considered flora but never fauna!!!

          Yes, I see it now. You are merely providing Briana a useful service. I agree that she ought to know all of the above about her writing because, well, how else on earth is she supposed to improve? Your contribution is sincere, she will thank you one day. Not once do you come across as an insufferable crank. No, you were consistently level-headed and helpful. It’s obvious that she had to hear that her writing style is horrible or atrocious THRICE in order for the point to sink in, and you, in your magnanimity, did not fail to deliver.

          “But… but… I never mix up my gender pronouns and I haven’t absentmindedly used the r-word since high school!!!”

          Take a long hard look in the mirror, Strunk. It’s amazing that some people can be so full of themselves to the point of lacking ANY self-awareness. It’s also amazing that some people can be so cruel to others in the name of fighting for their narrow view of social justice. What a joke.

          • Whoah, where did I say I wasn’t being mean and condescending? That’s exactly what I’m doing, I’m being incredibly mean! What makes you think I lack self-awareness? I am well aware that I am a colossal jerk. And how many times do I have to say that this isn’t about social justice? I’m far from politically correct. I get people’s pronouns wrong all the time, and I used “special needs” as an insult just last weekend. (I was using it to describe my game piece in a board game – I was far behind the others and at that point was moving backwards. Not my most shining moment in terms of word choice, and another player called me out on it. I then proceeded to NOT write an article in the Phoenix about how said other player was too sensitive.)

            But yes, I genuinely do believe that writers need to hear harsh criticism in order to improve, and I believe I am entitled to voice it. If your work is bad, your work is bad, and I’m going to tell the truth. If a writer is going to post a piece in an extremely public publication, they better be prepared to hear people’s opinion of it. Welcome to the Internet. I am being insufferable, and I don’t expect Briana to thank me. But I do expect her writing to improve now that she’s heard criticism of it.

            P.S. My point in pointing out her incorrect characterization of the composition of petroleum was a response to the fact that she BROUGHT UP THE COMPOSITION OF PETROLEUM IN A COMPLETELY UNRELATED ARTICLE JUST TO LOOK SMART. I don’t expect everyone to know what petroleum is made of! I didn’t know it until I looked it up just now! But if you’re going to quote random fun science facts in an article to make yourself look good, you should really be RIGHT about them in the first place.

          • Do you really expect us to believe that you suddenly decided to pour hours of your time into preening and gloating about the flaws of this particular author because the writing style of two articles happened to rub you the wrong way? That these articles which are some of the few to express a viewpoint that deviate even slightly from the PC-norm are uniquely deserving of your (and everyone’s) criticisms and ire? That reading sub-par articles in the Phoenix literally threw you into a rage from which you did not recover until seeing this opportunity to unload on the author in the Gazette? That you’re mean, condescending, and rude, but out of principle you shy away from making political judgments because you feel that it’s not your place to decide what others should think or do? Look, I do think you protest a little too much. And what of the two people you showed the Phoenix article to, who threw their papers down in disgust? Were they also infuriated by the quality of the publication? You admit you were being a colossal jerk in your initial post. So what were the majority who upvoted that post thinking? Just concerned folks worried about the decline of literariness at Swarthmore? I don’t particularly care what you think in particular. Maybe you are simply and merely a jerk (but, let’s be real here, chances are you’re lying through your teeth). My real concern is that more than a few otherwise decent people in this thread – who normally aren’t jerks, and who normally would not give a damn about the quality of publications – were more than willing to throw the author of this piece under the bus for the apparent reason that her naive views and background did not meet their lofty expectations with regards (ironically) to being tolerant and understanding of our fellow people. More than a few of these people actually tried to argue that you weren’t being mean or cruel in writing what you did (which you, on the other hand, correctly identified as an untenable claim to make) and they unwittingly followed your lead in bashing the author while under the guise of helping her out! I mean these people are well-versed in the nuances of being sensitive to all the various -isms under the sun, but sadly it turns out they lack the basic human decency to not post/support angry tirades against freshmen who are not yet acquainted or comfortable with all the ways that make Swarthmore sometimes disorientingly different from the outside world. Anyways, I’ll leave off by saying that I did scan through your critiques and I find them insubstantial and largely pointless. For instance, with the petroleum thing, she clearly wasn’t talking about the composition of petroleum in order to seem smart (in the sense of –ooh look, I know science facts) but rather to describe a familiar object/process from a new or disfamiliar angle, which I don’t think she did well, but it doesn’t mean she was being pedantic or pretentious in the way you seem to think. Most of your other comments are either too vague to distinguish from basic insults, or are similarly way off the mark. Given its length, it’s a rather empty piece of writing; masturbatory and self-indulgent. It’s easily one of the most egotistical things I’ve read and fails to provide much of anything beyond pure verbal abuse. Why you would think this would help the author in any way is beyond me, but, go ahead, carry on obsessively being a prick about this article in particular for no discernible reason (lol, yeah, okay) other than to be a prick.

          • (Apparently there’s a maximum for threading on DG comments? Huh. Anyway, this is a response to wewe’s most recent post.)

            Dude, you’re reaching insane conspiracy theorist levels. Why would I be lying so consistently about what I’m upset about??? If I wanted to call her out on her politics, I would have done so! Clearly I have no qualms about speaking my mind! Is it so hard for you to believe that I care more about writing than about politics? Is it really that hard for you to conceive of people who have different priorities from you?

            You can say all the racist and homophobic stuff you want in front of me and my reaction will be to step back and let other people do the fighting while I eat popcorn. It’s not that I avoid politics out of consideration for others’ feelings – seriously, have you met me? I avoid politics because it doesn’t interest me, and because I know other people have much better arguments on any given issue than I could possibly come up with. But writing is one of the few issues I’m passionate about. And when I’m passionate about a subject, I don’t hold back. Go on, try pushing another of my buttons – tell me that modern art sucks, or that multiple personality disorder is real. Make my day. In case you haven’t noticed, internet fights are one of my favorite pastimes. Of course I pour hours of my time into preening and gloating and acting frankly masturbatory over stuff like this – it’s fun!

            And yes, I am protesting an awful lot. You know why? Because you’re calling me a liar, and saying my passion about writing is invalid. And that rubs me very, very much the wrong way. But anyway, one of the nice things about the upvote/downvote system is its power to vindicate those who are speaking things the majority of people agree with. And I’ve got an awful lot of upvotes, and you’ve got an awful lot of downvotes. Do you really think your ludicrous theories about my motivations are right and it’s just that everyone else can’t see the truth? Because if so, I’ve got some GREAT information about the moon landings and Obama’s birth certificate.

          • Just checked with the people who threw the paper down. It was, in fact, due to the writing style that they did so. They threw the paper before they managed to trudge through the mess that was the first few paragraphs, long before the political content. I have shown the article to a few other people and have gotten such fun reactions as “what the fuck am I reading???” and 30 solid seconds of actual screaming. So clearly my friends are as bad as I am 😛

          • @ wewe,

            First of all, you might want to consider using paragraphs instead of banging out your rage in one massive wall of text. I know you hate it when people get bees in their bonnets over poor writing style, but if I’m going to rag on someone in a comment war I’d prefer that the object of my scorn be at least easy to read.

            Strunk avoids political arguments; I don’t. As someone with a complicated and non-binary gender identity, I was made uncomfortable by both the author’s obvious ignorance of her subject matter and the article’s “oh, isn’t this quaint” attitude (even if Briana didn’t mean any harm, and I am sure she didn’t.) I don’t expect everyone to afford me the respect and sensitivity that is so much more prevalent on our campus than it is in the rest of the world. I DO, however, expect it from a Swarthmore journalist who is choosing to address gender identity in my daily paper. This is not a “lofty expectation.”

            It’s really a shame that in your quest to delegitimize Strunk’s argument, you attack those who take issue with the article’s content (i.e., people who are not actually Strunk.) Why do you have such a beef with the “PC norm” that you’re willing to project it onto a sock-puppet in order to make a point? Methinks you’re harboring a deeper grudge against the liberal Swarthmore community that would be better addressed directly instead of fought out with someone who isn’t even invested in social justice.

          • @ Strunk

            Funny that before I showed up, you were palling around with the social justice group and even chiding the author for overlooking her privilege, but after I start making my comments suddenly you’re utterly uninterested in politics and you pull out all the stops to emphasize the fact that you were doing it all just for the lulz. It’s obvious that before you resigned to play the asshole who has no higher affiliation whatsoever, you were trying to play as the good guy, Strunk, and now here you are claiming that you downright enjoy spending hours being condescending and cruel to people because it’s just too much fun to preen and gloat about this stuff online. That’s kind of what I meant by you protesting too much. But fine, I understand that I can never prove my suspicions, so I will just have to take you at your word and move on. Seeing as you’re an insatiable narcissist who has literally been begging for other controversial topics/articles to lose your mind over, I expect I’ll be seeing you around here a lot, and look forward to your tenure as the most prolific critic on this site. I mean surely you wouldn’t ditch this perfect venue for voicing your opinions and bashing freshmen after this thread is done. No, you clearly are not going to do that. This right here isn’t a one-off thing.

          • @ White

            I didn’t respond to you earlier because frankly you’re not worth my time. You actually tried to claim that Strunk gave a good-natured criticism of the article absent any personal attacks, and you actually tried to get others to believe that the author would benefit as a writer from being subjected to Strunk’s largely pointless tirade. Anyone who would intentionally confuse a bombastic verbal attack for helpful commentary is someone who is clearly not in state of mind to be reasoned with. For this reason, I will continue to ignore your posts unless you recant your prior statements concerning the nature of Strunk’s comments. This really isn’t asking much since Strunk already admitted to being a jerk whose objective was self-gratification and whose intention was to wound, and this sort of already leaves you in the awkward position of defending the indefensible.

          • You bet your sweet ass this “isn’t a one-off thing”, sugar. Maybe before I got such a prime reaction from you I wouldn’t have bothered, but now you’ve given me the resolve to commit. Get ready for a fun year 😉

            (PS: Of course I “pal around” with the “social justice group”. That’s 95% of people at Swarthmore. I do try to fit in, you know. And I realize I implied above that I don’t care about racism and homophobia, but that isn’t true. I’m not a monster, I think bigotry is horrible in all its forms. But you won’t ever catch me in real life doing anything more political than signing a petition. I talk about privilege because that’s the social custom here; if I’m lying about anything in this conversation, it’s my political affiliations.)

          • @ wewe

            Not worth your time! Shit bro, now you’ve hurt my feelings. You even had to go and question my mental state.

            Strunk admitted that they were a jerk, and that their critique was harsh. Strunk did not admit, however, that they resorted to personal attacks. That is because they didn’t. Not once did Strunk insult Briana’s character; they even made it clear in a later post that they were confident in Briana’s abilities to do better. So I guess we can’t be friends. 🙁

            PS: Why “wewe?” It’s a name oddly suited to the tone of voice I give to your text whenever I read it. You know, sort of like what it sounded like whenever the parents said something in the Peanuts television specials. Or are you modeling yourself after this thing? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wewe_Gombel

          • That’s great, Strunk. I honestly do hope you keep on posting, and I don’t begrudge the possibility that I might be wrong about you. The main point I was trying to make is that a self-avowed asshole wouldn’t typically have devoted so much time to generating goodwill in the thread right after “ripping into a freshman” but I grant that you may be an odd case that I don’t know enough about to make such inferences on.

            However I stick by my overall point that the degree of hostility displayed in your initial post would never have been tolerated by the majority of others if not for the author’s “quaint” views on political correctness and gender pronouns. That’s the important thing, and despite what your friends say, I am skeptical that there are a great many others simply frothing at the mouth to condemn a freshman’s writing style in harshest terms. I don’t believe someone like White would have mistaken your post for helpful criticisms if they were not also unsettled by something deeper than the prose itself.

          • This is supposed to be a reply to wewe’s September 25, 2013 post at 11:08 pm:

            You refer to a PC norm, but that doesn’t seem to line up with what the world is really like.

            If oppressed groups normally got the respect they deserve as human beings, they wouldn’t be oppressed and we wouldn’t need to talk about enforcing political correctness because it would just be the usual mode of behavior.

            Since we know that is not true (there are tons of examples that show that things like racism and transphobia and sexism are, you know, still around and still bad), perspectives like the one in this piece that trivialize people’s very existence do not in fact challenge a norm: they perpetuate an oppressive status quo.

            Not so edgy or interesting.

          • @ Sara

            I didn’t mean the PC-norm applies beyond Swarthmore, I was specifically referencing the PC-norm AT Swarthmore. My point in bringing it up was not to make the article seem edgy or interesting in breaking a society-wide norm, but to make its existence seem a rarity AT Swarthmore, which it largely is, and to make it seem a rarity in order to emphasize the unlikelihood of a PC-neutral Strunk choosing this article to bash at random with unprecedented hostility, even if it was worse written than average.

            If you can link me to a single PC-neutral article that garnered as much vitriol over the WRITING STYLE as this one has (and as much popular support for the spewer of vitriol as this one has) then I will never post here again. I promise. Just give me one example.

            (But oh I forgot, Strunk is a trailblazer and all his upvotes are too, so you can’t find any prior examples.)

          • @ White

            Still not a personal attack? Show it to your mother and ask her if it sounds like a personal attack. You know, for someone who slices and dices language to suit your needs, and who analyzes ordinary language for every shade of offense, you are being awfully obtuse in your definition of what constitutes a personal attack, and you are being uncharacteristically tone-deaf and unsubtle in your evaluation of what amounts to a bald-faced sneer that drips with condescension and scorn.

            LOL you bought Strunk’s sorry excuse that they wrote such a thing precisely because they had full confidence in the author’s abilities and that they held nothing back precisely because every student at Swarthmore already rests assured in the knowledge that they are fundamentally smart? Oh boy, if you actually believed that tripe, then you really are hopeless. The truth is that while every student at Swarthmore is smart, some students are necessarily smarter than others, and insinuating that someone lies on the far left-side of the bell curve (relative to others at Swarthmore) is not much better than just flat-out calling them unintelligent. If you think Strunk was writing with full confidence in the author’s’ potential to improve, point me to one single positive thing that Strunk said in their lengthy screed, other than ‘hehe this article wasn’t as bad as the last one but both are so horrifically bad that I wouldn’t get too excited about this result if I were you.’ Nope, Strunk’s clear intention was to skewer the author with regards to intelligence and academic ability, and at Swarthmore, the effects of gratuitous humiliation re: one’s academic ability are really no less painful than the effects of racism, sexism, etc. You should know this, but apparently you don’t. That’s what I meant earlier by liberal hypocrisy, White, the fact that you would be steeped in the minutiae of your progressive movements while losing sight of the fact that it’s unacceptable (under any circumstances) to be so ostentatiously hostile to someone on a public forum for no good reason. Recognize that the only reason I abide by your requests for addressing you by your preferred gender pronoun is that I would prefer not to hurt the feelings of gender-queer people that I meet in my life. However, if those same people become callous and vindictive and cruel (whether or not in an effort to advance their own causes or goals), then I am much disinclined to hear them out in general and accommodate their requests. Your desire to be addressed as you please is NOT higher than Briana’s right to publish her works without undue harassment. As long as you and people like you who upvoted Strunk’s comment fail to behave in a civilized manner, then don’t be surprised if few reasonable people take your causes seriously.

          • Oh, I would like to point out a couple of inaccuracies in your reply to White, though:

            “at Swarthmore, the effects of gratuitous humiliation re: one’s academic ability are really no less painful than the effects of racism, sexism, etc.” Haha, really, people here are sensitive to academic criticism? Maybe they shouldn’t take classes here, then. I thought that at Swat we were all about that gratuitous academic humiliation life. I personally came to Swat to take classes that are grueling and cause me to doubt my own intelligence. I really don’t enjoy classes that make me feel smart; I get enough of that academic praise bullshit from my grandma. That’s how Swarthmore is done, kids. Learn to deal. Oh and PS, there are plenty of racists and sexists at Swarthmore. Don’t kid yourself.

            “it’s unacceptable (under any circumstances) to be so ostentatiously hostile to someone on a public forum for no good reason.” Haha, really, you’re not allowed to be hostile on a public forum? Maybe you shouldn’t go on the internet, then. I thought in the Daily Gazette comments we were all about that ostentatious hostility life. I personally came to the Daily Gazette so that I could go on an angry tirade in a socially acceptable format. I really don’t enjoy public forums where everyone holds their tongue and is nice to each other all the time; at this point, I’m going to have to break my parallelism, because my grandma IS ostentatiously hostile.

            “Your desire to be addressed as you please is NOT higher than Briana’s right to publish her works without undue harassment.” Haha, really, you’re a terrible person.

          • @ wewe

            God damn it, wewe. I thought you were going to wait for me to recant! Now I have no choice but to waste valuable time responding to you. I don’t know whether to feel flattered or annoyed.

            Given that your idea of “personal attack” includes the tone of delivery rather than the actual content of the criticism, I fail to understand why it’s my definition that’s obtuse rather than yours. Also, if you’re going to make me into another one of your sock-puppets, at least get it half-right; I am perfectly aware of Strunk’s “condescension and scorn.” Strunk is a caustic asshole who is perfectly willing to own up to the harshness of their language. A scathing review of someone’s work, however, is not a veiled takedown of the reviewee’s personality. Telling Strunk that they’re a liar even after they’ve made it clear that they believe Briana IS intelligent isn’t helping you look like any less of a conspiracy-theorist.

            I’m way more creeped out by the fact you think it’s okay to speak for the experience of Swatties affected by sexism and racism, and to demean them by equating institutionalized oppression against minorities with Internet meanness. Seriously, how dare you? And by the way, telling someone that your recognition of their gender identity is conditional is not going to convince anyone to take YOU seriously, Titsnakes.

          • @ Strunk

            Being academically challenged or academically humbled is not the same as being publicly humiliated. Refraining from mean-spirited diatribes does not imply having to hold your tongue and be nice to everyone all the time. If you’re just going to post non-sequiturs and be an intellectually dishonest twit from now on, at least make it a little less obvious to catch.

            @ White

            I like how you just instinctively clenched into a ball of self-righteousness at the mere mention of a few keywords. Here’s a hint for you: I do NOT consider the insensitive or ignorant use of gender pronouns to be as serious a moral offense as proactively bullying a freshman about their writing style in one of their first attempts at college writing. Not even close. I sit here in amazement that someone could be as dense as you portray to be: to think that mocking and ridiculing someone’s earnest attempt at writing an article in a very personally involved way could be construed as anything but a thinly veiled attack on the author’s person. If you wanna trade obtuse definition for obtuse definition, then I shall from here on define transphobic speech to be ONLY derogatory remarks targeted at transgender people for the sole reason that they are transgender. So when someone ignores PGPs in conversation because they don’t give a damn? Not transphobic. Making snide and cutting remarks about transgender people without referencing their sexuality? Not transphobic. After all, things like tone, attitude, context, and subtext do not matter. It’s only the explicit content of speech that matters, and if you can’t quote to a point in someone’s speech that shows them being explicitly transphobic, then that piece of speech is not transphobic. And even if the speaker later admits that they actually are kinda extremely transphobic, and was sorta precisely intending to convey their transphobic attitudes via words, the speech itself is still 100% neutral and should be treated and received as such. You are definitely cool with this, right?

      • When an individual’s point of view comes off as condescending and disrespectful of a minority, those disturbed by it shouldn’t withhold their responses just because there are worse articles out there (and honestly, I’m not seeing any.)

        Strunk makes a good point: writers who can’t take criticism will never improve, and this author is more than deserving of criticism. I can’t imagine a competent writer considering paragraph two anything BUT “convoluted and pretentious.”

        Again: What in Strunk’s response qualifies as a “personal attack?” Nobody seems to want to answer this question.

    • I understand if you feel the author offended you, or displayed what you find to be a striking lack of consideration.

      You are aggressively trying to discredit and demean her piece here. You are referencing her previous work as if to connect the dots and form a line that speaks to her ability and her intelligence in general. All this in several comments up and down this thread, so it seems you are personally invested in taking her and her “horrific prose” down.

      Without agreeing or disagreeing with your argument, something needs to be said about your approach and hypocrisy. In reaction to her alleged flippancy and dismissive condensation, you give her the same treatment.

      If as Swatties, we are trying to cultivate a respectful, lively, and diverse intellectual community, then your efforts are toxic. You are slamming this person in a way that is slanderous and personally involved. You are creative in the many ways you can discredit her. You display flippancy in your incredibly condescending condemnation of everything she’s worked on. All under the veil of promoting “basic writing skills.”
      I can’t understand why we think we are entitled to rag on others based on an alleged lack of intellectual merit (which seems like a power move to feel intellectually superior) while claiming we are not entitled to judge others on matters of race, gender, or physical ability.

      For if nothing else, she had voiced her opinions, and in your attitude you are encouraging her, and others like her, to feel embarrassed, fearful of repudiation, and then remain silent.

      • People are so confused about my intentions. I’m not offended by any of the author’s opinions! She didn’t say anything that could offend me because her opinions were so completely insubstantial. I do think she had a striking lack of consideration for the quality of her work and the value of her ideas, but I don’t think that’s what you’re saying.

        Your second paragraph there is 100% correct. I’m not sure if you think it’s news to me that I’m “aggressively trying to discredit and demean her piece”. That would be exactly my intent, yes. And I am trying to speak to her ability and intelligence, but not in the way you think I am. I am quite sure the author is very intelligent, and therefore I am sure that she is able to produce better work than this! If I didn’t think she was able to improve, I wouldn’t have gone on a giant rant. The problem isn’t that she’s not intelligent, it’s that she’s not using her obvious intelligence to write as well as someone that smart really should be able to. If she really was just not very bright, it wouldn’t be her fault if she couldn’t write well. But she is a Swattie (and no, she isn’t the admissions mistake), so she has only herself to blame for the poor quality of her writing.

        When you started talking about me being hypocritical, I thought you were going to point out how pretentious my own writing is – that would be a valid criticism. (Though I don’t pretend to call myself a journalist.) But no, you’re pointing out that I’m being flippant, dismissive, and condescending. Yes, all of those are true. The key difference is I’m not the one writing an article in a student publication. If the author wants to write about an issue that’s important to a lot of students, she has an obligation to take that issue seriously, and as a writer, she has an obligation to take her readers seriously as well. As a reader, I am under no such obligation to take her writing seriously, since she hasn’t given me any reason to. And I object to “slanderous” – slander means lying about someone in a way that damages their reputation. I’m not lying! Her writing really is that bad!

        I do think we are not entitled to judge others on matters of race, gender, or physical ability, unless we are judging them on things like whether or not they can win the Olympics, in which case obviously physical ability is relevant. I DO think we are entitled to judge people who consider themselves writers in terms of their writing ability. Is that such a radical position?

        • Correction: “I do think we are not entitled to judge others on matters of race” should be “I do NOT think we are entitled to judge others on matters of race”. Same meaning, but my previous wording is somewhat unclear.

        • Mr. Strunk- I will take your word that you are investing the time here to defend your high standards of writing/critical thought (with your reading of Strunk & White to qualify as sufficient, not to mention 3 years of Swat).

          I also agree that we absolutely do judge people for relevant reasons. And please feel free to voice your opinion.

          What I do accuse you of being so sensationally critical of an article as to demean the person behind it and take personal satisfaction in your crusade.

          I think you are hiding under your veil of pretending you are the supreme WA of Swarthmore’s student publication. It is inappropriate to belittle an author for her efforts in what is just her Opinion piece in a student-run website. This is not the Olympics; when student athletes have poor athletic performances (as athletes-in-training), or when students write terrible papers (scholars-in-training), there is just as much as stake. As Swatties, as peers, we can feel fully invested in furthering our education process. But we can and should be afforded compassion and patience, not pretentious condescension.

          Strunk, just please recognize you are not the one to tell anyone what they can or cannot publish. If the DG wants to adopt your Strunk&White standards for the Opinion columns, take it to them. If you want to respectfully point out errors or inscrutable arguments to the author, I would enjoy and learn from reading your comments. But why do you feel compelled to pick on a young writer who has years less experience than you?

          This is my own judgment of your comments. You are clearly allowed to speak as you have, and to an extent any author should expect all sorts of sensational responses to a piece about a topic like this. I don’t feel comfortable standing by while you hide behind the pretense of helping this student. You certainly would be fired for inappropriateness if you were her WA editing this paper, and I don’t understand why you feel compelled to pretend to act as her WA! I ask that you don’t try to make the argument that “this is good for her, this is for her own good.” It doesn’t matter if her pieces made “people put their papers down in disgust,” or you thought it was “weird,” she has the courage to keep writing in her style and why should she care that you think it’s shit. If you take intellectual issue with pieces like this, take it to the DG board. Otherwise, give feedback that can be respectful, especially if you want it to get through to her.

          Just be direct with some vestige of courtesy. You didn’t like her style for particular reasons. You hope future pieces will be better, and they might be improved in certain ways.

          Just asking for you to keep your intellectual ego in check. Even though you might religiously maintain Strunk & White as the gold standard to which we should hold ourselves, a young writer should not feel humiliated and condescended to if they haven’t found their way towards that yet. Or perhaps they just want to write outside your prescribed gold standard.

        • “I like you” in response to insult. Okay, who’s livejournal now? Fuck off and die, god you’re so cloyingly disgusting. Please never comment again

          • Wait, I thought LiveJournal was where people react to insults by screaming and crying. Maybe I’m confusing it with Tumblr, it’s been a while since LJ has been relevant to anything. But anyway, it’s clear that I like being insulting, so why wouldn’t I like being insulted?

  3. If by “do that” you mean ask about gender pronouns, they don’t. If talk to nearly any student from any other American college/university, they will most likely act surprised and tell you they’ve never even heard of asking someone as being any sort of etiquette. I hate to make my personal experience with this conversation seem objective, but try it and see.

  4. Strunk…is this a prank? That writer is a REAL PERSON. How can you insult someone so personally like this? If you have some kind of problem, why can’t you take it up with the editor in private? Get over yourself. No harm against you was intended here.

    • Please identify exactly where Strunk “insult[ed] someone so personally.” Criticism of the style and content of an article is not a personal attack. Telling them to “get over yourself,” however, is.

    • A prank? You seem to be confused about what the word “prank” means. I care about the quality of our student publications, and I don’t like to see such low standards for both writing and content in the Gazette. If people are going to publish their work in a school-wide publication, it had better be up to par. Whether they’re a “REAL PERSON” doesn’t factor into it. All journalists are real people. However, some of them are bad journalists. “Your work is bad” isn’t a personal insult, it’s something that a writer needs to hear if they’re ever going to improve. A writer who can’t take criticism is destined to failure. Also, I don’t have “some kind of problem”, which I’m presuming refers to my mental health, and I certainly don’t think the author meant any harm against me, but I don’t require myself to be personally harmed before I feel I have the right to raise valid critical points.

    • Also, if you’re replying twice to an article, it’s not clear who you are if you put your name as “me again”. It’s a lot clearer if you, you know, just use the same name twice.

  5. What does a preferred gender pronoun have to do with American South? People don’t ask for PGPs in most of America, because ignorance and transphobia is spread through most of America. If anything, it’s a problem with rural America, not the South specifically.

    You try to give Swarthmore a practical distinction as one of the few places that uses PGPs, putting it at an arm’s length to the majority of the world and to “back home”. It is distinct. It’s up to those of us that are lucky enough to learn from this place of distinction and return to the real world and change it, not to stop by, call a few people “they”, then return to the quote-unquote-real-world.

    More importantly, the entire article REALLY trivializes those students who identify as they. You imply that those identifying as they do not also identify as “me” to themselves. Also, I can’t quite decipher your language as to whether you’re calling the same people “delightfully pretentious” or not. You do realize, that the reason “It’s not something I’ve thought about” is because you are incredibly privileged to be cisgendered? Finally, the idea that someone “can even call me “they.”” is a bit of a misunderstanding as to how gender identities work. It’s not an arbitrary label or decision, it’s a fundamental belief about yourself, not as simple as an arbitrary choice or label. If someone called me ‘her’, it just wouldn’t jive with my identity. I’ll excuse the fact that using two-headed people as a parallel for they-identities is counterproductive and perpetuates ill notions of non-binary identities as freakish.

    This being said, welcome to Swarthmore. It sounds like you have really good intentions with this article. It’s a difficult, almost unforgiving, place to learn so much in such a short amount of time.

    *if any of this isn’t quite right, call me out please.*

    • Yes, thank you! You bring up a lot of extremely valid points. I think the same issues of trivializing and lack of critical thought towards topics that are important to other students plague both this article and the one by the same author in the Phoenix (http://www.swarthmorephoenix.com/political-correctness-worries-opinions-and-such/), although they were less egregious in this piece. In both cases, the author’s attempts to be flippant and humorous through word choice mostly come across as condescending and dismissive towards people who actually care about pronouns and use of offensive language. It’s clear that the author has not considered how her privilege has affected her perception of these issues. To be fair to her, though, I’m pretty sure that she was using “delightfully pretentious” to refer to herself. (Of course, that in and of itself is pretty grating. No one even pretends to find pretentiousness cute, come on.)

      • I totally agree with you on this article (a fairly incoherent thing, although I don’t feel it’s my place to judge whether it’s pretentious or not). HOWEVER, I kinda liked her Phoenix article minus the first few paragraphs.

    • In Briana’s defense:
      1) She’s making fun of herself (not others) by calling herself “delightfully pretentious.”
      2) She’s using the 2-headed person not as a parallel for they-identities but as an image of incorrect grammar (in Tennessee, she learned that calling an individual “they” was wrong because it implied plurality. At Swarthmore, she’s learning that “they” doesn’t always mean something plural. An important lesson with which many freshmen struggle, especially those fond of the rules of grammar.)

  6. First of all, I’d like to point out that while Elvis did live in Tennessee, he is originally from the great state of Mississippi. Tupelo, to be exact.

    Secondly, about the “they” issue, I was taught the same thing. He/She for singular and they/them only for plural. The number of the pronoun has to match the subject, verb, yada-yada-yada. However, I was also taught a lot of outdated things back home (including that the equator goes through Texas). While I, too, am a stickler for grammar, this infringement has a valid purpose (unlike the horrid misuse of lay/lie). There is currently no widely-accepted, English gender-neutral pronoun, so we’re stuck with they for the time being.

    Lastly, I hope this article isn’t a start to a recurring column in the Gazette. I might stroke.

  7. Also, in an article slamming the improper use of the word they, you’d think the author wouldn’t make the there/they’re/their mistake. Paragraph 7 contains this gem: “I can’t imagine anyone else being overtly familiar with the concept of asking someone what THEY’RE preferred pronoun is.” Oh, the irony.

  8. As you probably know, there are lots of languages in the world which don’t even have grammatical or natural gender. Finnish, for example. Therefore, there are no feminine/masculine pronouns at all in Finnish. Even the 3rd person singular pronoun (“hän”) is genderless. In addition to or despite that, Finns also use the inanimate singular pronoun “se” meaning ‘it’ to refer to a person in informal, everyday speech. E.g. if someone asks in Finnish ‘where’s Susanna?’ it can be replied “se” ‘is in the living room’. ‘It’ for a person is usually considered as normal and not offensive.

    So, languages differ, a lot.

    And yeah, singular “they” has a long history in English.

  9. I made the mistake of reading the comments first, and made the assumption that the writer had said something offensive. Her statements were extremely neutral, just talking about her adjustment since Swat (I haven’t read the Phoenix one). I thought (but know we don’t) we encouraged different opinions to be spoken, and this was hardly an opinion. I understand critiquing her about her lack of an argument, but anything beyond that in a critique was either a lack of understanding of what she wrote or poor critiquing skills (your critiques should sound neutral so they don’t offend, although people can choose to be offended at everything).

    I can tell people are taking offense at her article–it’s obvious. It’s also obvious specifically why they’re taking offense. I wish people could just admit their mistakes instead of feeling the need to defend themselves. It’s a people-wide issue, but it makes sense because since you are the closest to yourself, you feel like you have to defend yourself “to the death.”

    • Your general point is a decent one – this article was hardly an opinion, and there’s not that much there to get offended about, though I do think people are justified in taking issue with the writer’s dismissive tone towards an important concept. I just want to object to “your critiques should sound neutral so they don’t offend”. That may be true for professors who don’t want to intimidate their students, or friends who want to let their peers down gently, but there’s no general law that criticism becomes invalid if it’s written in an angry tone. It’s pretty clear that I’m not making an effort to not offend the author – I don’t care whether she’s offended or not, I just wanted to tell her frankly what I think of her work. She can choose to ignore me if she wishes.

  10. While I appreciate that you are trying to work through these new concepts of gender identities, I think that a space other than the daily gazette would be more appropriate. When we ask what someone’s pgp is it is out of respect for that human beings individual identity.

    “You can even call me “they.” Maybe I’ll grow another head spontaneously from my shoulders once you do so”…please don’t ever say this again.

    I appreciate that you are recognizing that you are learning about identities you never knew about. But I would challenge you to think more appropriately about them, especially so publicly. Plus, like you said, you’ve only been here for 3 weeks. Ask questions and learn more about the use of pgps. Hopefully then you won’t say things like I can’t say if I will ever be a they…really?? As if people who prefer gender neutral pronouns are some sort of monster or strange being…i would like to think you’re better than that. Please feel free to email me if you would like to talk about this more.

  11. Anyway, the south is the only place in the country that consistently uses a gender neutral term …”y’all” as opposed to our all too common “hey guys”.

    • Western Pennsylvania also has “yunz” as a second person person plural. You could make the argument that “guys” is gender neutral in “you guys” (I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say “you girls”) but that’s neither here nor there, because the pronoun dispute at Swat revolves around third person pronouns.

      • “You girls” or just “girls” is actually something that I’ve heard fairly regularly, but unlike “you guys” it’s really only used to refer to an all-female group. This makes “you guys” a version of the gender-neutral masculine which used to be much more common in English.

        • I’ve recently learned about and started using a new pronoun “you folks”. I was honestly surprised by how clever the phrase is.

  12. To Briana—
    don’t be disheartened by all the negative feedback! It takes a lot of courage to put some of your own writing into a public space to be read and criticized. I wholeheartedly agree with all the criticisms of your work, but don’t stop writing. Learn from the criticisms, but don’t let them scare you into silencing yourself.

  13. -the freshman have been here for less than a month, and we are still figuring our shit out. try for some empathy!

    -we all came to college to LEARN, not because we already know everything there is to know about writing. I’d venture to say even you, “Strunk,” do not know everything there is to know about writing. the REAL Strunk didn’t even know everything there is to know about writing. go ahead, criticize my inconsistent capitalization or repetitive style… or you could stop taking yourself so seriously, because

    -this is a student opinion column designed for self-expression. it gets sent out for people to read so that we can build our community and understand each other better, NOT so that we can sharpen our minds each morning on gems of modern prose. go take a lit class if that’s what you’re looking for and maybe then you’ll be too busy to snark at people’s semantics

  14. Since the author is intelligent enough to be admitted into Swarthmore College, I am not buying the idea that she meant no harm to other students and is just remembering childhood experiences. I see this article as hate speech against a minority group of students and the editor could have decided not to publish it as written. Instead, the editor could have had it revised and reworked so it was not offensive. Since that was not done, this makes me wonder, why not? Is Brianna’s right to free speech more important than the rights of the students who use the “they” pronoun? What does she gain from writing this? So far, some are calling for empathy, compassion and patience for her, one person called her out on the content and some are attacking her ability to write. Ok. But how about showing empathy, compassion, patience and respect to the students who have been attacked in this hateful article that has been dressed up as freshman ignorance.

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