It's largely considered bad form to respond to a critic. As a fan of bad forms I decided to go ahead and give it a try. You see, I recently came across a criticism of my book, Bad Unicorn, because the reader had encountered “their” as a singular pronoun and so stopped reading. My response . . . pfft!
He or she, in writing his or her review, must have reflected on his or her experiences as an editor/copywriter/kitten euthanizer, and in his or her dedication to one prescriptive style guide or another, found his or her panties/shorts wadded in a binding grammatical knot causing him or her great rhetorical angst and discomfort. Now that's how you write a sentence!
Just to set the record straight, however, according to Merriam-Webster, “the use of they, their, them, and themselves as pronouns of indefinite gender and indefinite number is well established in speech and writing, even in literary and formal contexts.” The use of “their” as a singular pronoun is found in the works of such hacks as Austen, Chaucer, Dickens, Shakespeare, and others. There's actually a great post about this at Daily Writing Tips.
So to any future readers, let me suggest that if such nuances are troubling for you, you probably aren’t the type to enjoy a book about a carnivorous unicorn in the first place. That being said, let me salute my critic's grammatical vigor and ask that we at least part as friends. Or as Shakespeare put it: “There's not a man I meet but doth salute me / As if I were their well-acquainted friend.” Now that guy can write.
|The only surviving photograph of "The Bard" when asked about this issue.|