13

I have met with this edit twice during review.

It boils down to changing a neutral pronoun to singular they. First time I thought this edit made next to no improvement (I know some other reviewer chose causes harm reason) because:

  • it is a very little change (no significant improvement)
  • it is quite clear that the author of the answer wanted to be like this

However, since the answer deals with UK Parliament rules which are in place for many years, from a historical perspective it makes more sense to use the singular they instead of the much newer gender neutral.

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    Reference from edit suggestion: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/340881/… – Alexei Dec 23 '19 at 13:18
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    One person actually felt so provoked by the use of the word "xyrself" that they flagged the answer for moderator attention. I don't really get why people get so riled up about people experimenting with gender neutral language. – Philipp Dec 23 '19 at 15:36
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    @Philipp - for me these pronouns are very strange (I almost never hear or read them and I cannot seem to able to remember them although I immediately understand their meaning while reading a post). Anyway I see no problem with their usage and actually it is nice to experiment. Also, if I remember correctly any moderation attention request must also be accompanied by a reason, so I expect one was provided. – Alexei Dec 23 '19 at 15:43
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    @Philipp To be clear: the version that did have "xyrself" got flagged, because of just that? For what stated reason? – I would have read that 'xyr…" one as a typo… But for 'getting it': general US political debate, company policy and MSE discussions have now made this into "the hill some want to die on". And while I did use such language ('experiments') as well in the past on this network, solely because of how SE & MSE behaved, I rolled that own behaviour back to a classic dictionary and stylebook. – LаngLаngС Dec 23 '19 at 16:00
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    @LаngLаngС Yes, the free text flag called the answer "deliberately provocative by using a neo-pronoun". – Philipp Dec 23 '19 at 16:13
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    "xyrself" Is that even a word?! Merriam-Webster doesn't know it. merriam-webster.com/dictionary/xyrself . – Sjoerd Dec 23 '19 at 19:05
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    @Philipp It's been pointed out to me in the other place that it could be a troll. I don't know if that's the case, I think there's no easy way to find out if not for other indicators. – JJJ Dec 23 '19 at 22:51
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    @JJforTransparencyandMonica the answer is pretty long and detailed, with a single neopronoun. That's a lot of effort for a Troll. – Jontia Jan 1 at 22:53
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    @Jontia It doesn't require much extra effort at all. All that is required is that they take an answer they would normally write and include a controversial pronoun as protest of the new pronoun policy. It's a form of malicious compliance: "I have to be gender neutral? Well, I'll pick a word most people won't know, which someone will edit and start a controversy." It would be nice if the poster was here to actually discuss their motivations--it's pretty easy to detect sincere users of neopronouns. Absent that, the best we can do is check if they'd used them before. – trlkly Jan 5 at 11:41
  • Perhaps @JdeBP does not use Meta? There is no system of notification when something you post sparks a thread here after all. – Jontia Jan 5 at 14:26
20

The answer was flagged:

This answer is being deliberately provocative by using a neo-pronoun ("xyrself") where none is called for.

I don't know about deliberately provocative, but I agree that the use of the neo-pronoun in the answer is unnecessary and would probably prove to be a distraction. The edit may look minor, but I think it's a helpful one and it's good it was ultimately approved.

The (main) Meta discussion linked in the edit suggestion comment is worth a read:

Can a user use neopronouns for any third party?

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    @Alexei An edit isn't bad just because it's minor. The specific edit improves the answer (imho) by removing a completely unnecessary distraction, so it's helpful, however minor. – yannis Dec 24 '19 at 14:09
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    What I said on one of the answers on Main Meta: "It’s like if I had an answer in completely normal English, then inserted some super weird phrases that, while correct, don’t have any real benefit. 'The carbon-based biped walked down the rectangle covered in black concrete.' is pointlessly confusing. Same thing here." – Stormblessed Dec 25 '19 at 20:39
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    I really disagree with this. The flagger's comment is itself unhelpfully provocative, there is no reason to be so hot under the collar over such a minor issue. The answerer was not using the pronoun obtrusively or attempting to make the answer all about that. They're simply attempting to use gender neutral language in an every day way. There's literally no reason to become distracted by the word xyrself, unless you already take issue with the concept of gender neutrality. In that case the problem is your own. Had I come across the edit before this Meta post I would have rolled it back. – Dan Scally Dec 27 '19 at 9:03
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    @danscally "themselves" is fine if you wish to be gender neutral. The answer is no less gender neutral now than it was before. – yannis Dec 27 '19 at 9:39
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    @yannis I agree, but so is xyrself. Indeed this lets me highlight why this edit was inappropriate; I would also have rolled back an edit from themself to xyrself, because the fact that someone would make such an inconsequential change highlights that it's not being done to improve the answer at all. The same reasoning applies to this edit. – Dan Scally Dec 27 '19 at 9:44
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    @danscally If you feel so strongly about it, you should post an answer. I think the community can only benefit from an active discussion on the matter. – yannis Dec 28 '19 at 11:54
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    @DanScally For many people these neo-pronouns have a strong political association, not necessarily about gender neutrality in itself but with the part of the political field where these questions are prominent. The choice of words can be quite a power game, and people are playing it on both sides regardless if whether we acknowledge it or not. "Themselves" is neutral in that regard, "xyrself" is definitely not. – Alex Jan 2 at 9:11
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    @Alex I disagree that the bare use of the word should be construed as political in any form, but the act of deliberately changing it to an operatively identical word certainly can be. That is the whole thrust of my disagreement here. The change from xyrself to themself implies a political agenda every bit as clearly as a change from themself to xyrself would, in my opinion. It was fine as it was, and should have been left alone. – Dan Scally Jan 2 at 9:30
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    @DanScally Changing "xyrself" to "themself" could also come from a wish to keep de facto politically charged and polarizing words out of this platform where not needed. It does not have to come from political agenda other than to keep the language here as understandable and neutral as possible. And sure, the question of when and how to try to change our language for normative reasons is not easy, but I'm just saying that the wish to avoid those kind of words on certain platforms can have motivations other than pure conservatism and/or anti LGBT-rights. – Alex Jan 2 at 12:29
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    @Alex again, the assertion that "xyrself" is inherently politically charged or polarizing is one I reject entirely. It flatly isn't, but the act of changing it because you disagree with the usage likely is. – Dan Scally Jan 2 at 12:32
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    @DanScally It might not be for you, but for many it is. – Alex Jan 2 at 12:33
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    @Alex happy to do so, but we should probably move it out of comments in that case. – Dan Scally Jan 2 at 12:46
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    @DanScally I wouldn't even say "politically charged." It's more that they are inherently controversial. To many they come off as Newspeak, an attempt to change language to change minds. And plenty of people object to this, calling it "PC." The last thing we need after the new pronoun policy is to make things more controversial than they already are. "Themselves" has been used in this way for over 400 years, and is an accepted part of the language. Its usage should be encouraged to avoid such problems. – trlkly Jan 5 at 11:31
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    @trikly, still disagree. No idea what on earth "newspeak" is, but new words come into play because people believe that existing language is insufficient. I see no reason to artificially stifle their usage, they'll die out naturally if people decide they're not useful. Finally, the idea of words themselves being inherently controversial makes no sense whatever to me. People might disagree with the motivations behind their invention; that's their problem. – Dan Scally Jan 5 at 17:59
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    @DanScally newspeak a controlled language of restricted grammar and limited vocabulary, meant to limit the freedom of thought — personal identity, self-expression, free will. From George Orwell's 1984 – Jontia Jan 5 at 19:35
0

My opinion is that edits exclusively changing neutral pronouns to other neutral pronouns (including from "neopronouns" to themself) should be rolled back, as they're fairly clearly inconsequential edits. Had I noticed the edit before I noticed this meta post, I would probably have rolled it back for that reason.

Some answers to anticipated objections in this particular case:

Changing to themself improves clarity.

I guess the driver for this opinion is that xyrself is not an especially common word, but I don't agree that that alone justifies an edit, any more than would be an edit of "werewithal" to "means" or "apportionment" to "distribution" or any other change from a single less common word to a more common synonym.

Xyrself is political.

How? It's just a neutral pronoun. If the poster had attempted somehow to make their answer entirely about the pronoun or about gender politics generally, then yeah sure. But that's not what happened. If anything, it is the act of changing the pronoun that comes across as potentially political in my opinion, particularly given the fact that the context in which it was used was otherwise devoid of any gender politics. Certainly a change from themself to xyrself would be construed in that way, given they are synonyms. I don't see how the reverse change is any different.

Xyrself is less readable

Xy words exist in English, what's the problem?

The use of neopronouns attracts the wrong type of attention

This is an opinion evident in Yannis' statement that:

the use of the neo-pronoun in the answer is unnecessary and would probably prove to be a distraction

and additionally is part of the editor's justification for the change. To me this is a point of real disagreement. They're entirely right that it's distracting people, not least the flagger who described the use of the word as "deliberately provocative", but I don't see why we should pander to people who think something so innocuous is provocative. We would never countenance editing out a reference to a spouse as "husband" or "wife" because it was triggering people who take issue with the existence of same-sex marriages for example, I don't see how this case is any different.

I recognise that that might give the mods a hard time if they were absolutely inundated and having to spend inordinate amounts of time clearing up such posts. If that were the case, I'd probably acquiesce on the grounds of necessity.

The neopronoun was not referring to a specific person who had stated that was their correct pronoun

I mean...what's the problem then? If it was referring to a specific person who had specifically pointed out that that was not their preferred pronoun then that absolutely should be edited...but in the absence of any knowledge and particularly in the case of a reference to a hypothetical person (as in this case) it's effectively impossible for anyone to take offense at the usage.

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    What do you mean,"xy words exist"? Do you mean to say that there are English words which contain "xy" or do you mean that "xyrself" officially exists in English? If it's the latter, do you happen to have sources? English isn't my native language, and when I read "xyrself" I just parse it as a typo. – Eric Duminil Jan 2 at 19:50
  • @EricDuminil I mean that words containing and beginning with the letters "xy" already exist in the English language, so I don't buy the readability argument because this spelling is nothing that a native English speaker hasn't seen before. – Dan Scally Jan 2 at 20:16
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    I'm pretty sure changing "wherewithal" or "apportionment" to a word that most people understand would justify an edit. I'm not a native English speaker, and while I consider my knowledge of English pretty good, I've never seen those words, and unless there is a specific reason to use them (e.g. having slightly different, more precise meaning, that is generally understood within the field of question), deliberately using such words is just being hostile to non-native speakers, which I assume are a significant part of the user base. – Noctiphobia Jan 4 at 4:57
  • @Noctiphobia it's quite ridiculous to assume that just because you're unfamiliar with a word, the speaker is being deliberately hostile to you. – Dan Scally Jan 4 at 7:39
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    @DanScally If the speaker deliberately chooses this word, knowing that a significant number of people reading won't understand it (with the words you mentioned, I'm willing to bet more than 50% of users here), the speaker is being hostile. If the speaker just uses the word because it's natural to them (e.g. variants of English used in certain places), that's a different matter, but if the speaker goes out of their way to include language incomprehensible to other people, that's an act of hostility. Changing incomprehensible language that is there for no reason definitely justifies an edit. – Noctiphobia Jan 4 at 8:02
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    @Noctiphobia sorry, your assertion that a native English speaker is being hostile by choosing a word that non native English speakers might not have encountered is flatly ridiculous. Note that you are required in the CoC to "assume good faith", which you are clearly failing to do here. There is no reason to believe the poster was deliberately attempting to confuse anyone, the idea is just silly. – Dan Scally Jan 4 at 9:47
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    The idea isn't silly at all. Such is exactly how a form of protest of the new pronoun policy would work. One of the potential problems proposed was that people who objected to the change would deliberately use esoteric pronouns and confuse people who didn't know the words. It's a textbook form of malicious compliance on this issue. I can't say that's definitely the case here, but there's a pretty easy test: did the poster previously use such neopronouns? Because, if not, it is highly suspicious they would start using them only after the new rule. – trlkly Jan 5 at 11:40
  • @trikly Nice conspiracy theory, but you're expanding the ridiculousness here. – Dan Scally Jan 5 at 18:00
  • I have a suggestion for you. Since you've given your thoughts in your answer, can you stop arguing with people who have given different answers? I count 14 of your comments on answers to this question so far. – CJ Dennis Jan 6 at 8:35
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    @CJDennis the whole point of meta is to talk this out, and as you've given reasons that I havent responded to yet, I don't really see a reason to not respond to those. – Dan Scally Jan 6 at 8:53
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    You said you would edit your answer to address my response to your question. That is entirely appropriate. But you seem to be trying to force others to agree with you by posting comments on other answers. So far there have been an equal number of people who agree and disagree with your viewpoint, whereas the top answer has 16 more people agreeing than disagreeing. – CJ Dennis Jan 6 at 9:55
  • @CJDennis again, the point of this is to talk it out, so I'm responding to people who comment in response to points I've made. That's also entirely appropriate. This line of conversation on the other hand is probably outside the scope of comments, so if you want to continue let's take it to chat. – Dan Scally Jan 6 at 9:58
-2

In this case I believe the edit should be rolled back and xyrself restored to the answer.

The main meta question top answer calls the use of a neopronoun for someone who has not requested it akin to misgendering. While I don't agree with that position, it is not relevant here because the answer does not refer to a specific individual.

The higher rated answer would agree with this edit because;

Yes, you were right. Parsing the word 'perself' may be hard for users who aren't used to neopronouns, and 'themselves' is clearer.

This is circular logic. No one can become used to neopronouns if they are not used. And the change from a singular to plural in the quote suggests things are hardly clearer.

Indeed this same flaw is the basis of my disagreement with comparing it to misgendering. Xyrself, a third person gender neutral pronoun does not asign a gender, and it does it reject the assigning of a gender to an individual.

Perhaps in this instance themself is serviceable and specific, but singular they while gramatically correct can be easily confused with a plural meaning, and use of xyrself as an extension of xyr is a logical requirement to increase familiarity, understanding and acceptance of neopronouns. If that is something the poster wishes to do then more power to xem.

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    @alephzero you do have access to the internet though right? Looking up a single word takes how much time? You could just Google it. A phrase that would have meant nothing just a few years ago. There is an issue globally with a lack of a single choice, but to compare it to random string gibberish is childish. – Jontia Jan 2 at 7:41
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    "No one can become used to neopronouns if they are not used." I fail to see a problem here. New words are proposed all the time but not every word is retained and officially accepted in wordbooks. – Eric Duminil Jan 2 at 19:53
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    @EricDuminil indeed it is. That does not mean that new or lesser used words should be edited out of people's answers though. – Jontia Jan 2 at 20:19
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    @Jontia I believe that as long as SE wants to be a site welcoming to non-native speakers, deliberately using very uncommon words is clearly undesirable, unless there's a good reason for doing so (e.g. jargon). – Noctiphobia Jan 4 at 5:01
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    @Noctiphobia I sympathise, but I think StackExchange has better tools to deal with a lack of clarity, the downvoted being the most obvious along with comments. Editing another user's answer to replace synonyms like this is more controlling than I think is acceptable. Asking users to make xyr own changes is preferable. – Jontia Jan 4 at 7:31
  • Jontia: "just Google it". At least "Google" has a specific and useful meaning which isn't already covered by other words. – Eric Duminil Jan 4 at 10:24
  • @EricDuminil sounds double plus good. – Jontia Jan 4 at 13:21
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    @Jontia I would say answers don't belong to the users at all. The fact that other users can edit posts with the original author not even having to approve indicates that we're not supposed to see Answers as being ours. Someoen using "xyrself" who did not use that pronoun before the new rule on pronoun usage is almost certainly changing their use of language as a form of protest, deliberately making things harder to read. They should not be allowed to succeed. Neopronouns don't exist for that purpose--they exist to give non-binary people more options. – trlkly Jan 5 at 11:11
  • @trlkly assuming the only purpose of neopronouns is to provide options for non-binary people is self limiting. A gender neutral pronoun that can be used when I do not know the gender of the individual would be quite handy. Singular they, while correct is awkward in some situations. The biggest barriers to adoption are lack of a consistent choice and assumptions that they are 'for' a particular group. Some neopronouns may be. Xe, xem and xyr however are not. – Jontia Jan 5 at 14:25

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