Readers write: Need for non-gender pronouns, more needed for Congress, hate speech

Letters to the editor for the Nov. 14, 2016 weekly magazine.

Larry Downing/Reuters
Audience members pray at the 60th annual National Prayer Breakfast at the Washington Hilton hotel in Washington on Feb. 2, 2012.

Need for non-gender pronouns

Regarding the Aug. 1 Verbal Energy column, “Desire lines, in our cities and our language”: Teachers and professional users of English should do something long overdue: develop and then promote new singular non-gender pronouns. We need new pronouns that relate to one person and are neither male nor female. They would replace pronouns that are grouped as the “singular they.”

The construction “Someone had voted with their feet ...” needs to be revised by a new singular possessive pronoun that does not offend people by being sexist. We should not be having a conversation about perpetuating usage that does violence to the agreement of number. A singular noun should be followed by a singular verb and by a singular pronoun. Since new words are commonly invented, this task should not be hard. In the analogy of the “singular they” being a desire line that may one day get paved, as the column suggests, I submit instead it is a cutoff to avoid a switchback on the Appalachian Trail, one that leads to erosion. Does one put two shoes on one foot? Or set places for two guests when only one is invited?

Jeff Olsen

Silver Spring, Md.

More needed for Congress

Regarding the Sept. 19 cover story, “The spirit of Congress”: Your report on the good spirit engendered by prayer meetings among members of Congress is encouraging. However, that good spirit alone, while necessary, is not sufficient to enable Congress to produce good legislation.

Watching over the years for what works in political discourse about complex and contentious issues, I’ve noticed four conditions that, along with a spirit of collaboration, are necessary and sufficient for success: All stakeholders are engaged, with their concerns, interests, values, and priorities clearly expressed and respected; a clear vision is articulated of the desired and needed qualities of outcome that are important to the various stakeholders, independent of whatever particular solution may be selected to deliver those qualities; stakeholders support the chosen method to search for candidate solutions with good prospects for satisfying the vision; stakeholders support the chosen method to evaluate candidate solutions and select the best. The result is a solution that actually works, enjoys the support of a stakeholder consensus, and is not constrained by rigid positions, and so is adaptable to change as needed. 

The way out of our current political quagmire is for a core of enlightened citizens to understand these principles and demand that Congress adopt them.

William H. Cutler

Union City, Calif.

Hate speech

Regarding the Sept. 23 online article “San Jose State University investigates after swastikas found on campus” ( As a Jewish and Israeli member of the SJSU faculty, I found the swastikas, one of which was accompanied by overt anti-Semitic language, to be personally offensive and troubling. However, I reject the connection made in the article between these swastikas and activism against the oppression of Palestinians by Israel. I am the adviser to SJSU’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine, which led a successful campaign last year that called for our university to divest from companies that profit from the Israeli occupation. Linking real anti-Semitic incidents to legitimate and necessary political activism is misleading and plays into the hands of those who aim to stifle us in order to preserve Israel’s impunity.

Noam Perry

San Jose, Calif.

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