Anatoly Liberman doesn't approve of they replacing he or she:
They for a singular subject was introduced by those who wanted to rid English of sexism. At a time when equal opportunity added millions of women to the work force, using he as a generalizing pronoun is silly, but it is desirable that a medicine be not worse than the disease.
An easy way exists of discovering when the tenant’s dilemma emerged. Our best dictionaries give away the truth. In the first edition of Random House Unabridged Dictionary (1966), the entry they occupies eight lines and is trivial. In the second edition (1993), a long section on usage was added, which I will reproduce in full: “Long before the use of generic he was condemned as sexist, the pronouns they, their, and them were used in educated speech and in all but the most formal writing to refer to indefinite pronouns and to single nouns of general personal reference, probably because such nouns are not felt to be exclusively singular: If anyone calls, tell them I’ll be back at six. Everybody began looking at their books at once. Such use is not a recent development, nor is it a mark of ignorance. Shakespeare, Swift, Shelley, Scott, and Dickens, as well as many other English and American writers, have used they and its forms to refer to singular antecedents. Already widespread in the language (though still rejected as ungrammatical by some), this use of they, their, and them is increasing in all but the most conservatively edited American English. This increased use is partly impelled by the desire to avoid the sexist implications of he as a pronoun of general reference.” Almost nothing in this comment is controversial. Yet I will point to three things. The phrase singular antecedents disguises the fact that only words like everybody and perhaps person are meant. Also, I would avoid references to Shakespeare. His grammar is so different from ours that it cannot guide modern English usage. Even Fielding should probably be left alone. Finally, in the reference to Scott, Dickens, and “many other English and American writers,” it would have been useful to state whether such syntax appears in their speech or in the speech of the characters. Let us note that in 1969 the editors of Random House Unabridged let they be and added a detailed comment justifying what seems to be age-old usage only in 1993 (why suddenly?).
I often use her as a generalizing pronoun. But this kind of dispute is better left to experts such as Barbara Wallraff, who writes Word Court and Word Fugitives for the Atlantic. Incidently, she has a new blog.
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