Recently I have come across the curious neologism neopronouns. I have a lifelong interest in languages and linguistics, but this is a new concept for me. Prior to a month or so ago I had never heard of ‘neopronouns’.

Quite a number of years ago I did come across the form hesh(e). I have never to date seen this word used in practice, so I’m unsure whether it does, or does not, qualify as a neopronoun.

My question is a straightforward one, and I would very much appreciate if all answers to it would please remain on topic.

My Question

What is ɴᴏᴛ a neopronoun, and if anything can be said ɴᴏᴛ to be a neopronoun, then what authorities or official bodies might decide this and via what specific criteria?


A little more explanation of my motivation to ask this question, since this question has not led to many answers, but has provoked a great number of comments:

  • Language is organic. We are right to adopt a descriptive rather than a prescriptive approach to language because language as it is used by its speakers is the language.

  • It follows that neopronouns in use are already de-facto elements of the living languages in which they are used.

  • But mass adoption of new language elements by the public at large relies in no small degree on their adoption by both the print and the spoken media alike, and then using these elements frequently and consistently to familiarise the general public with them.

  • Media adoption of new language elements depends on those elements being presented in clear, uncontroversial forms to enable their widespread adoption. Few today would find controversial the marriage-nonspecific female honorific Ms from the mid-twentieth century, nor would anyone alive today find controversial the inanimate third-person possessive personal pronoun its which was first written that way during the late sixteenth century – sex being an intrinsic property only of animate beings alone, not of inanimate objects for which it and its are rightly used in the singular.

  • A surprisingly high number of animate but still gender-nonspecific neopronouns have been proposed since the mid-nineteenth century. All seek traction, although none of them – presumably because of their novelty and rarity and because of competition from the many others which makes each individual pronoun all the rarer – ever manage to achieve that traction. They simply do not stick.

    The idea of an animate gender-nonspecific third-person personal pronoun is uncontroversial: we never question that we today use gender-nonspecific first- and second-person pronouns, I, we, and you – or the archaic and dialectal forms thou and ye.

    Consequently we might hypothesise now in the early 21st century that today’s media have failed to adopt any animate but gender-nonspecific third-person personal pronouns (which are less rare and novel than they once were) because of substantial confusion and lack of clarity over the overwhelming number of rival proposals.

  • It occurs to me (and probably to many others) that some of the confusion might be cleared up – and the chances of media adoption and then mass public adoption greatly increased – if exactly what is ɴᴏᴛ and ᴄᴀɴɴᴏᴛ ᴇᴠᴇʀ be considered a neopronoun were made clearer. I recognise this takes us into the realm of linguistic prescription, which we are usually right to avoid.

    Allowing doubt and confusion to proliferate explosively alongside competing proposals hinders mass adoption of what could be otherwise presented as a useful set of animate yet gender-nonspecific third-person subject, object, reflexive, possessive, and determinative pronouns with universal application by all speakers of English.

    These would be analogous to how in most dialects of present-day English we now universally use second-person you for males and females alike rather than reserving second-person you only for those scenarios in which we do not care to specify their gender and some hypothetical form like ❉shyou for females with a corresponding hypothetical form ❉hyou for males when we actually ᴅᴏ care to specify their gender.

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    There is an SE site for English language (english.stackexchange.com), shouldn't this question be there instead? – Tom Oct 27 '19 at 13:24
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    By my understanding anything can be a neo-pronoun and there is no "official" body which approves it, I believe it's done through community consensus. – Script47 Oct 27 '19 at 13:25
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    @Tom I'm guessing it's related to the CoC but OP just hasn't tagged it as such. – Script47 Oct 27 '19 at 13:26
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    @Rounin Yes, the terminology "neopronouns" is certainly specific to the English language, although similar concepts might exist in other languages too. – S.D. Oct 27 '19 at 13:29
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    @Rounin In any case, this question doesn't seem to be relevant to this site unless you're asking some clarification regarding the CoC. If yes, edit to clarify. Otherwise, delete and ask on the language sites instead. – S.D. Oct 27 '19 at 13:32
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    Though the concept applies to languages other than English, asking it in the English site is probably a good idea anyway, as the specifics of the answers depend on which language one is dealing with (other languages, for instance, might have official regulatory bodies, or handle pronouns in a very different way). A sufficiently general form of this question might work on the linguistics site, as long as it doesn't end up too broad. – duplode Oct 27 '19 at 13:42
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    @Rounin No, I don't think neo-pronouns are limited to English only, but the main language on most Stack Exchange sites is English, so it would still be best asked there and if needed additional questions on non-English sites. Or like duplode suggested, on linguistics.stackexchange.com. – Tom Oct 27 '19 at 13:49
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    There is no authoritative instance for the English language like other languages that have them. Even then these instances follow the evolution of the language. – Helmar Oct 27 '19 at 16:48
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    This cannot possibly be off-topic at the moment. – Lightness Races BY-SA 3.0 Oct 27 '19 at 17:34
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    I can't post this as an anwser, but here is an academic peer reviewed listing known neoprouns from the Journal of language works. – SurpriseDog Oct 27 '19 at 18:08
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    Perhaps it would be more enlightening to pin down just what it is that the referenced so-called "new" "pronouns" actually are before attempting to say what they are not. // It's also probably worth noting that the layman and the linguist are apt to understand these terms and their instances rather differently, leading to confusion and conflict. – tchrist Oct 27 '19 at 18:33
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    @Rounin As I understand it there are no other criteria for legitimacy than somebody asking you to use that combination of glyphs as pronouns to address them. – Stop harming Monica Oct 27 '19 at 22:58
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    A neopronoun is a proposed pronoun which has not been grammaticalised into the speech community's language. – curiousdannii Oct 27 '19 at 23:51
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    @Rounin I don’t understand why your question mentions “descriptive” use. Nobody appears to have suggested anything descriptive here that I’ve read. There appears to be no discernible intent to describe anything at all. The Code of Conduct is not about descriptive use of neopronouns; it’s only about prescriptive use of neopronouns and proscriptive use of paleopronouns. For descriptive, you’d need something linguistical and preferably peer-reviewed. – tchrist Oct 28 '19 at 0:05
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    @Rounin Descriptive linguistics still makes calls about whether things are commonly used or are parts of a various varieties of the language including the standard variety. It is very likely that some neopronouns have been grammaticalised in a dialect spoken in queer communities. That doesn't mean they're grammatical in the broad international English of the SE network. – curiousdannii Oct 28 '19 at 1:14

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