There has been vigorous discussion here on meta about the new Code of Conduct and its requirements regarding pronouns. The discussion has been exclusive to third-person singular pronouns, but nothing in the CoC or the associated FAQ explicitly restricts to the third person or to gender. This raises the question of how it applies to second-person pronouns.

For example, suppose a user indicates that their preferred second-person singular pronouns are thou/thee/thy/thine/thyself instead of you/you/your/yours/yourself. A literal interpretation of the CoC ("Use stated pronouns (when known).") indicates that all other users are obliged to (actively) use these pronouns when addressing that user.

This particular example may seem archaic and therefore unlikely to come up, but thou is still used in a handful of regional dialects of English. Also many other modern languages commonly use equivalents for both you and thou. Deciding which to use is a notorious social challenge in languages that use both, as it can lead to mild offense if the wrong one is used. Thus I can easily imagine such an issue arising on a non-English site (although the question is valid for English too).

Another example to consider is a user requesting that they be addressed only in the third person, rather than in the second person. That is, instead of "If you restart your computer" the preferred language is "If the OP restarts their computer". Again, this request is not so strange; avoiding the second person is standard in many formal settings, such as in parliament or in court. Failing to comply with such a request would be avoiding the use of gendered third-person pronouns, which seems to violate the CoC.

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    what-the-heck-gender-am-i.tumblr.com/pronouns Judging by this list, almost every pronoun has a second-person singular like "frankenself", "witchself", "meowself", etc, so it might not be that uncommon – user245382 Oct 15 '19 at 4:00
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    I wouldn't consider this list a great resource - there's a large amount of cultural context and quirks in the otherkin community that one outside it would not get. A lot of this feels a lot more conflated with mlp and furry subculture than I remember the otherkin community being when I had friends in it. – Journeyman Geek Oct 15 '19 at 4:06
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    Second person is gender-neutral in English so what's the problem? – Lundin Oct 15 '19 at 8:32
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    This is only relevant in languages other than English, not because of gender but because many languages have a polite and an informal form. IIRC German SE has a rule to address people informally ( du / dich / dein ) rather than formally ( Sie / Ihr / Ihnen ). – gerrit Oct 15 '19 at 9:19
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    @Lundin The same could be said about "they", but clearly that is a problem for some people as well as the CoC. I don't think it's too far fetched to extend this to the second person. – schtandard Oct 15 '19 at 10:51
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    @schtandard It is not a problem at all, this is an English-speaking site so we use the gender-neutral they when the gender of the person is unknown or irrelevant. If someone wants to re-invent English, then that's their own problem. If someone is hurt because of how the English language has been defined for some thousand years, then that's also their own problem. – Lundin Oct 15 '19 at 10:58
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    I learned today that Thai has gender-specific first person pronouns. This CoC change is becoming more and more of a Monty Python sketch, which is to say it's funny if you're not in it. – MSalters - reinstate Monica Oct 15 '19 at 13:59
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    @Lundin Well, the CoC says differently. My understanding is that this compelled speech is the cause of all the fuzz here. The FAQ says: "Q9: Do I have to use pronouns I’m unfamiliar or uncomfortable with (e.g., neopronouns like xe, zir, ne... )?" -- "Yes, if those are stated by the individual." – schtandard Oct 15 '19 at 14:22
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    @Lundin Does the CoC only apply to gendered pronouns? If so, where is this stated? – Thomas Oct 15 '19 at 14:27
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    @schtandard Too bad then, because no user is entitled to be more important than everyone else. If I'm struggling with English as it is, and someone insists that I instead use some unfamiliar alien language when addressing them, they are discriminating me, as a non-native English speaker. I'll flag such requests as rude or unfriendly. – Lundin Oct 15 '19 at 14:28
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    "Deciding which to use is a notorious social challenge in languages that use both, as it can lead to mild offense if the wrong one is used" - I know two and familiar with one more, and in all of them, there is a whole class of deliberate offences around this, like using full name with informal pronoun, or formal pronouns mixed with informal. – ADEpt Oct 15 '19 at 16:45
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    @divibisan And I've never seen anyone specify or request a neopronoun. That doesn't mean we can ignore the issue. – Thomas Oct 15 '19 at 17:44
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    @Thomas I mean, if we're pedantic about the language in the CoC and assume bad faith in users and mods, we could come up with an infinite number of hypothetical situations that we could get mad about. Does you actually think that this is a real situation that is likely to pose a problem in reality and needs to be addressed now? If so, then I'm really sorry for assuming bad faith. It really just feels like an effort to stir a pot that really doesn't need more stirring. – divibisan Oct 15 '19 at 18:40
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    @gerrit, I did some queries on the German SE database , and du/Sie usage is about 50/50. data.stackexchange.com/german/query/1125150/sie-fraction – BlackShift Oct 15 '19 at 18:50
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    @House-'ReinstateMonica'-man Those aren't second-person singulars, those are third-person singular reflexives. – Tanner Swett Oct 28 '19 at 6:44

I particularly doubt that anyone will be hurt, or their identity denied by the lack of use of the less common second person pronouns.

Considering the convention that most people use in informing others of the pronouns to be used also often lacks second person pronouns and that the defaults are gender neutral, I doubt it would be an issue

While it is tempting to try to find every edge case of the COC, let's consider the actual intent - which is to create a more welcoming community, not find more ways to take and give offense.

If someone has a great, compelling reason to go past the standard, pretty universal ones, I guess we could but - as is, there are few reasons I see to.

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    " While it is tempting to try to find every edge case of the COC, let's consider the actual intent - which is to create a more welcoming community, not find more ways to take and give offense." I agree. Wouldn't it be great if people assumed good faith on StackExchange? Perhaps we should put that in some document delineating how people are to behave on this platform. – SolveIt Oct 15 '19 at 4:25
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    And yet - the community is people. And sometimes it's necessary to remind people that we need to actually think of the bigger picture. But then again I'm totally an advocate of bringing back the presumption of good faith into the COC. – Journeyman Geek Oct 15 '19 at 4:31
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    I agree that it probably doesn't matter, but I think the question should still have an answer. – Thomas Oct 15 '19 at 6:34
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    I disagree with "let's consider the actual intent" when we may have "corrective action" taken against us "regardless of intent" if someone thinks we are avoiding their pronouns as a form of disrespect. – GrumpyCrouton Oct 15 '19 at 14:17
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    While I’ve upvoted this, because I agree that thinking about the actual goal of the changes is important, I think we need an actual response. The official FAQ went into excruciating detail about having to use neo-pronouns and grammar not being and excuse, so I don’t think it should avoid mentioning that some people state first and second person pronouns as well as third. – ColleenV Oct 15 '19 at 18:12
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    Before this debacle started, many users would've doubted that neopronouns would be compelled. Now, all they have is doubt. Better to clarify the boundaries than to add more doubt. – reaanb Oct 15 '19 at 18:14
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    The problem is that the intended boundaries of the CoC are unclear, and people fear that action will be taken against them if they inadvertently cross that boundary, or question where the boundaries actually are (e.g. Monica). There would be no problem if SE would assume good faith of the users and follow a protocol that gives users plenty of opportunity to move away from the gray zone if they stumble too far in due to ignorance or cultural differences. Second order pronouns are /probably/ a non-issue, but who knows for sure? – BlackShift Oct 15 '19 at 18:46
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    "I particularly doubt that anyone will be hurt, or their identity denied by...pronouns." No comment needed. "If someone has a great, compelling reason to go past the standard, pretty universal ones" — I have still not seen any great, compelling reason to go past the standard, pretty universal third person pronouns. But there sure are a lot of people "finding more ways to take and give offense" regarding third person pronouns. I see absolutely no reason to believe it will stop with third person pronouns, and not extend to all other types of speech. (Not just referring to SE here.) – Wildcard Oct 15 '19 at 18:46
  • This addresses the idea of people requesting a specific second-person pronoun to be used for them; what about people requesting not to be called by a specific second-person pronoun? For example, I don't like being addressed as "y'all". – Rand al'Thor Oct 28 '19 at 5:51
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    Isn't y'all plural though? Or are we getting into the rabbit hole of all yousealls and all y'all's and.... – Journeyman Geek Oct 28 '19 at 5:53
  • @JourneymanGeek, "y'all" is singular in Texas, and plural in the rest of the southeastern United States. – Mark Oct 28 '19 at 20:51

There are many languages with gendered pronouns for first and second person as well as third person. Portuguese is one, which is relevant because there is a Portuguese language Stack Overflow site.

In the FAQ it was stated that the CoC will apply to all languages, although they're not yet sure exactly how it will be applied.

6. How does this apply to languages other than English?

While these specific requirements around pronoun usage apply only to the English language, the goal of being inclusive and respectful of all genders applies to all our communities. As we find best practices in other languages, we’ll work with those communities and update guidance for those languages.

I think the only thing we can conclude is that if there are non-binary members of Stack Overflow em Português who declare that they have new non-binary pronouns, then if those neopronouns include second person forms, then the members on that site would be obligated to use them exactly as much as anyone will be on one of the English language sites.

That said, there's also no reason why someone couldn't state that they have unique second person pronouns on an English site either.

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    You should have chosen Spanish not Portuguese! The Portuguese 1st- and 2nd-person pronouns (eu, tu / você, nós, vós / vocês) do not express the gender of their person. But like any adjective, the corresponding possessive adjectives for those pronouns do match the gender and number of the noun they modify — which is completely different from that of the person/speaker and unrelated. Indeed any mention of "I/you/we are ADJ" is likely to reveal that person's gender in the inflected ADJ, just as obrigado, obrigada reveal the speaker's gender when thanking someone. – tchrist Oct 29 '19 at 3:00
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    In contrast, whenever you in Spanish use the plural 1st- and 2nd-person pronouns nosotras "we" (1st person plural feminine) or vosotras "you" (2nd person plural familiar feminine) you have stated that the group consists only of girls or women. So that's a better example for this: you tie the gender of the pronoun to that of the person. You can only do that in Portuguese in the 3rd person. Speaking of which, probably I should also note that Spanish and Portuguese have gender in the 3rd-person plurals as well: PT eles, elas ES ellos, ellas. – tchrist Oct 29 '19 at 3:00

I feel confident saying that the instruction to "use stated pronouns (when known)" probably does not refer to second-person pronouns at all, only to third-person pronouns.

The purpose of the rule is to respect a person's gender identity, as expressed by their stated pronouns. Pronouns that deny someone's gender identity are prohibited; pronouns that affirm someone's gender identity are encouraged. The purpose of the rule is not to allow people to make arbitrary demands about the language used when talking about them.

Since the pronoun "you" carries no denotations or connotations related to gender whatsoever, it's outside of the scope of the rule.

(An exception would be the pronoun "you guys," since that one is often considered to be gendered. If someone wrote "Please don't address a group containing me as 'you guys,'" you would need to respect that.)

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  • What is wrong about respecting a person‘s identity as a whole, not just the gender identity? In many languages there is a formal and a casual second person. In some situation, it‘s a form of disrespect to use the wrong one. – Philippos Nov 23 '19 at 6:35
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    I was under the (possibly mistaken?) impression that "You guys" stopped meaning "You males" and started meaning "You people" around the mid-1990s (?) – Rounin Aug 22 at 17:41

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