general neopronoun history

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Pronouns! We all have them, who needs em, they're just like us. In that sentence alone, I used six different pronouns--We, them, who, em, they, and us. These don't look like normal "pronouns," though, do they? Correct! There are many different kinds of pronouns, which typically get divided into three sections:

Each of these sections has a different purpose in English, so I will be talking about them all, but I focus mostly on third person pronouns, as those have had the most controversies and history attached to them. That'll be the last section on this page, and below that, there'll be a link to sources, more sets, and additional history. But, lets start with first person pronouns!

First Person Pronouns

First person pronouns are pronouns made about yourself. Common examples are I, me, we, and us. These are pretty basic, but there's still a decent amount of fun history surrounding them.

However, I don't feel like working on this right now, so this is under construction.

Second Person Pronouns

Ok, so there's a bit more here. In the third person pronoun section, I'll go into more detail about the gender options on LambdaMOO, but it's also relevant here! Exciting!

Second person pronouns are pronouns that refer to the person being spoken to. There's only a few (in English), and they all come from the base word you. The pronoun you is gramatically plural--you say "you are going to the beach," not "you is going to the beach." What does this tell us? Well, these days, we use you as a singular pronouns (that is, we don't refer to multiple people when saying you), which goes against the gramatical format we've seen so far. Does this mean you used to be plural? Yes! You've (ha) likely heard people saying thou, thee, thy, ye, thine, and thyself. These are the archaic second person pronouns, and they fell out of favor in the 17th century.

You, which had previously been plural, started being used singularly, but the grammar around it didn't change. Using singular you was seen as undignified and improper.

I mentioned earlier that LambdaMOO, an online MOO (text based multiplayer world), is related to second person pronouns. I stand by this! Later, I'll talk about my Forbidden Gender search, but, spoiler, one of them is no third person pronouns, and two were variations on only first and second pronouns. I haven't actually logged in to LambdaMOO to get full sources and examples, but I think it's pretty cool :)

Third Person Pronouns

On to the fun stuff.

Third person neopronouns are hands down the most common form of neopronouns. They've been along far longer than most people expect, especially if you consider they/them to be a new pronouns (which is technically the definition of neopronoun, so they are a bit ambiguous, but most use the word to mean third person singular pronouns other than he/him, she/her, they/them, and sometimes it/its).

Let us start in the beginning, with the first New Pronoun: they/them.

They/them as a singular pronoun set has been around since at least 1375, many years before you became singular. They/them was used as a singular pronoun in an English translation of a French poem called William and the Werewolf (Guillaume de Palerme in the original French). The poem is absolutely wild and I highly recommend reading the modern translation it's so funny.

The first traditional neopronouns I've been able to find has been thon/thons, created by Charles Converse Crozat (or Charles Crozat Converse. Unsure) in the 1850s. These are the most well known historical neopronouns, and ended up in at least two dictionaries, the second edition of Merriam-Webster and some unknown edition of the Funk and Waggles dictionary. I don't have these dictionaries yet but I am working on it. There's also no online copies because who scans an entire dictionary published in 1934.

Anyways, these aren't the only pronouns made in the 1850s, but that is the only set I've been able to find a name to connect it with (so far). Other pronouns made in this time are hiser/hiser (1850) and ne/nim (1850), but if we expand the timeframe to the whole 1800s, there's also en/en (1868), hi/him/his (1884), and ip/ips (1884).

Pronouns made in this time--the 1800s--are very focused on creating an entirely neutral pronoun, specifically for the purpose of legal documents and not a third or alternate gender. Because of this, pronouns in this time period tend to be combinations of he and she.