Art Directors & lazy Copywriters beware. This is a grammar post. Account planners, you can consider this a topic for future focus groups.
As a Copywriter, I love that I can play fast and loose with grammar. Periods, em dashes, semicolons, and ellipses —colloquially known as dot-dot-dots— get thrown around with intentional, almost reckless, disregard for how much our Honors English Teacher would approve. Or disapprove.
Which, of course, is the reason that Mark Edwards and I ended up in a friendly discussion (i.e. loud argument) regarding the use of “they.” As a progressive nonprofit worker living in a very progressive city —San Francisco— and a freaking art student, it’s common place for me to use a genderless pronoun when referring to people. “He” and “she” often times become “they.” A copywriter should always be aware of their audience. Mark disagrees. And is right (arguably).
Technically, Copywriters should always be aware of their audience. They is plural.
But what is a copywriter to do when faced with the need for a singular gender-neutral pronoun? Default to the technically correct but pseudo patriarchal he? And piss off feminists, LGBT activists, and Freedom Fighters for Uni-sex Bathrooms? No, gender non-specific sir.
My (unqualified & unrequested) advice:
- Know your audience.
- Speak their language.
- Even if it’s grammatically incorrect.
- Learn the rules so you can break’em.
Oh and your teacher, boss, and partner are always right.
Even if they is wrong.