Neopronouns–what are they?

Today I heard a grammar term I have never heard before:  neopronoun.  If you don’t know what I am talking about, you might want to continue reading, because you will be hearing the term “neopronoun” in the future.student thinking about what to write

A neopronoun is a word created to serve as a pronoun without disclosing the gender of the person identified by the pronoun.

Take this sentence, for example.  “Chris ate dinner.”  Now suppose Chris is male.  To replace Chris with a pronoun, you could say, “He ate dinner.”  Or if Chris is female, “She ate dinner.”  But if Chris doesn’t want you to identify Chris as male or female, you could say, “They ate dinner,” or “It ate dinner.”  Or you could use a made-up word to mean a non-gender pronoun such as “Ze ate dinner,” or “Xe ate dinner,” or “Ey ate dinner.”  These made-up words—ze, xe, and ey, for example—are neopronouns.

Ze, Xe and Ey are subject pronouns.  But these and other neopronouns have object forms such as ze/zir/zirself, fae/faer/faerself, and innit/innits/innitself.  If you are wondering how to pronounce these new words, anything goes, at least for now.  With time, some of these neopronouns will stick and become part of our language while others will be quaint relics of our past.  Those that stick will develop standard pronunciations. 

These pronouns are being used by some transgender people (especially young people) to refer to themselves.  If I understand correctly, one transgender person might use one set of pronouns, and another transgender person might use a different set of pronouns. 

Related to neopronouns is the title Mx. (with or without the period and pronounced as “mix”).  You use it as a title for a person who does not want to be identified as male or female, or for a person who considers itself/themselves/xeself? non-binary.  This term dates back to the 1970s and has been included in some recently published dictionaries.

And what is non-binary?  People who identify as not exclusively male or female refer to zirselves as nonbinary.

If all this seems strange to you, I can remember when the title “Ms” was introduced in the 1970s.  What a hullaballoo it created.  Now, it’s as accepted as Mr., Mrs., and Miss.  Soon, perhaps ze or innit will be that acceptable, too.

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