Why Hu would be a nice word to have.
By Jake Shivery
As we evolve, we become more complex. As our culture and technology continue to develop, we will always be discovering new issues and topics to discuss. As this happens, we will require our vocabulary to keep up with us.
Our aptitude for complex thought is directly related to our ability to attach labels to concepts or objects. The more expansive our vocabulary, the less trouble we have exploring and expressing complex thoughts. The more that the language is allowed to evolve and encompass new ideas, the easier it will be for us to have increasingly complex thoughts. We must allow our vocabulary to keep up with us. A stagnant language or, worse, a subtractive language limits our thinking potential. Fortunately, English is a flexible and expansive language, adaptable to new ideas and concepts.
What we are addressing is a notable hole in the English language - a missing pronoun. "He" and "she" refer to a single male or female, respectively; "it" refers to a single thing or object; "they" gender-neutrally refers to a group of people or objects.
When referring to a single individual of non-specific or irrelevant gender, however, we have a void. This void makes communication awkward at best, offensive at worst, and always inaccurate.
We humbly submit a new word to fill this void: "hu", a third person singular, non gender-specific pronoun. Its variants include "hus", "hume", and "huself".
Previous attempts have been made to introduce a gender-neutral pronoun into the language; Sie, E, and the Spivak pronouns among them. None of these terms have gained widespread acceptance. We chose hu (a truncation of "humanity") to be familiar, simple to use, and easy to integrate with the existing pronouns. For these reasons, we feel that hu has the best chance at cultural acceptance and usage.
Additive Language Versus Consistent Language
apologies to G. Orwell
Orwell reminds us that an excellent way to make people think in only one way, or more specifically, in your way, is to restrain their vocabulary. "Newspeak", the de-evolving language from his novel 1984, removed words from the English language in order to shape minds to specific goals.
Real world English, of course, is much better, but imagine for a moment that it weren't. Suppose that we only had the word "angry" to express the entire gamut of emotions ranging from "irked" to "homicidal". You would not be able to form an accurate conclusion as to how you should react to the news that "Otto is angry that he wasn't invited to your birthday party." Should you leave town immediately, or merely buy Otto a drink the next time you see him?
In the same vein, why use "he" when the subject might just as likely be "she"? Why use "they" when referring to a single individual? Why refer to an unborn child, certainly "of gender" (even if that gender is unknown) as "it"?
People tend to desire consistency in their language; simply, they like to know what the heck someone else is saying. As an educated person, you might be subtly annoyed when you run into a word that you have never heard before and, if that word represents something as simple and fundamental as a pronoun, you might be, even unconsciously, bothered. And so we have this desire to keep the language as it is. But this desire is shortsighted and eventually self-defeating. When there is a new invention, should we not name it because people will have to learn a new word? Similarly, when we evolve a new concept, why resist labeling it properly?
Assimilation of New Words
Words are assimilated into the language at a surprising rate, and can be divided (briefly, if not thoroughly) into the following categories:
When people use the language poorly or imprecisely, either because they are uninterested, uneducated, or both, they do a disservice to the language, whose purpose is to convey meaning. Combining words, such as "irrespective" and "regardless" to produce "irregardless" is not only incorrect, it creates a double negative, actually reversing the intended meaning. Combining "misunderstand" with "underestimate" is another example. If you "misunderestimate" someone, are you not, in fact, overestimating hume?
Technology-driven words are, or course, required. We will always be coming up with words like "astronaut", "microwave" and "Internet" to describe that which was not there before.
"Cool" is an example with near-universal acceptance. "Cool" describes a particular state, distinct from "good" or "saucy" or "swell". This particular usage of the word was not developed in an institution of education by linguists with a grant and then released into the wild, as it were. It was created and adopted by regular people to enhance expression - people who don't use fancy phrases like "enhance expression". People have a common desire to be understood, even if it means creating new words (or a new usage of an existing word) to convey that meaning. This behavior benefits us all, as it either provides additional definition or richer lyricism.
The additive, evolving, adaptable language will always provide us with the greatest strength of mind.
Egalitarianism and the Political Angle
The English language has gone through some changes in the past twenty years, in the name of inclusion. Result-oriented approaches are flawed in that they attempt to change the outcome without going after the root cause - in our case, inaccuracy. When accuracy is the primary aim, inclusion naturally follows.
For instance, using "he" to refer to an unspecific subject is largely recognized as not inclusive. However, attempts to provide inclusion have been clumsy. "He/she" or "S/he" are two of the worst, if only because they require punctuation and are largely unpronounceable. The word "one" is unsuitable, because its usage is confined to the general or conceptual. You may well say, "One typically acts in one's own best interests." This is fine, because it refers to a person, in general terms. You would not say "What a nice cat. How old is one?" You know to which cat you are referring.
Our call for the adoption of "hu" stems from a desire to provide a term that reflects an incredibly important social shift. The jobs of mechanics, lawyers and surgeons no longer carry gender assignations, but we often make baseless assumptions when speaking in the third person of someone in one of these professions:
"I hear you have a good lawyer. What is his name?"
There is no reason to assume, of course, that the lawyer is a man. Yet we have no word that allows us not to make a gender distinction. Our language, in this instance, has not yet caught up with a fundamental change in the world that it is meant to describe.
The observant and culturally aware might say, "What is their name?" but, again the inaccuracy. You are requesting the name of a specific person. "I hear you use good lawyers. What are their names?" is accurate and makes sense; it is the word "they" fulfilling its duty.
Now, imagine that you could say: "I hear you have a good lawyer. What is hus name?" Problem solved: the built-in sexism and social awkwardness are avoided, and the inacurracy is eliminated.
Our goal is not specifically to further the cause of feminism, or any political agenda, although "hu" is by its very nature egalitarian. Our fundamental goals are accuracy and the ability to expand the possible answers to specific questions. The word is not meant as a political statement, but a fix for a hole in the language.
We like the adoption of "Ms.", because it is additive (not subtractive), as a speaker still has full rights to use "Miss" or "Mrs." where appropriate. There is nothing wrong with the traditional usages, provided that the woman in question wishes to advertise her marital status. However, in the event that she merely wishes to be addressed formally, specific to her gender without respect to her marital status, we have "Ms." If the additive philosophy were to be carried out further, we would add two additional salutations to "Mr." to be used in the event that a man would like people to know his status in the marriage department.
In the same way that "Ms." has had far-reaching impact, so will the addition of the new pronoun. The ramifications are astounding. We are frequently asked whether there has ever been any actual recorded evidence of someone being negatively impacted by the use of "he" or "it" when another answer was possible. Imagine that you are a young boy who could (would) become a very gifted nurse. Perhaps the fact that you spend your formative years always hearing of nurses referred to with the feminine pronoun discourages you, and your talents are wasted in another field more regularly defined as masculine. Is this effect quantifiable in terms of social impact? We think that it is not, but regard it a shameful waste all the same. "Hu" goes a long way to preventing this, at least with respect to how language affects the way that we perceive the world.
Our feeling is that one hundred percent of the public's resistance to the adoption of "hu" will dissolve when the young are indoctrinated. Of course, it is difficult for a "fully-formed" adult to get hus mind wrapped around a radical change to a cornerstone of the language. As previously mentioned, this can be faintly disenchanting, particularly to someone who feels that hu is already well spoken.
But if this word was learned in tandem with the other pronouns, were it taught with no more and no less emphasis than other pronouns, its usage would be intuitive. This word was designed to be user-friendly - with little more than context to go on, its meaning can be surmised. We've tried many variations, but this is the choice that does the most to ease the "terrible transition" to a more complete pronoun system. We are attempting to aid ourselves right now, today, but, more to the point we are after the people that will come after us; we wish to enable future generations to use this word instinctively, and to use this additional vocabulary to proceed further down roads we have not even thought about.
List of Arguments:
(it's not like we're not ready for you, we've been preaching this in bars for a decade.)
||We don't need it because we already have words that mean the same thing. Or: why don't you just use the singular they like everyone else?
||No, actually, we don't. "She" means "a female", "he" means "a male", "they" means "that group" and "it" means "that thing". "They" is neutral, but specifically plural. It does not refer to an individual. Each of these words does a fine job expressing its concept and none of them should be required to do double duty.
||It sounds weird.
||It wouldn't if you had learned it in the first grade. It is monosyllabic and familiar and makes sense, even just contextually.
||It's a guy's name. (or it's a word used to describe color, or it's something you do with an axe, etc.)
||English is loaded with homonyms. You have no trouble telling the difference between "tail" and "tale", "jeans" and "genes", "pairs" and "pears" - what makes you think you'll stumble over the difference between "Hugh", "hue", "hew" and "hu"?
Language most commonly expands when the vernacular is absorbed. In other words, the starting point is not in academic circles or with the dictionary publishers, but folks out in the world who are tired of hearing their pet or unborn child referred to as "it". People who bristle when their profession is assigned a gender. People who wish to think beyond these restrictions, and wish to express themselves clearly.
Tired of those tense conversational gymnastics when you are uncertain of the gender of someone about whom you wish to speak? Try out our word and you, too, will be able to say: "I understand you're seeing someone new. I can't wait to meet hu."
Language evolves. This evolution can be influenced. If enough of us use "hu" properly and without irony, as if we always had, as if it were always common, then it will become common.
We encourage you to start using "hu" in everyday conversation and correspondence. If you want to use "hu" on your web site, feel free to link it to our handy popup:
<a href="http://www.hupronoun.org/hu_pop.html" target="_new">hu</a>
Thank you, and goodnight.