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Whenever you view a user's profile page who hasn't written anything in the about me section, you see this:

Apparently, this user prefers to keep an air of mystery about them.

Shouldn't it say: "about him/her"?

(Sorry for the pettiness-level of this question.)

N.B. I am not a native English speaker. However I am quite convinced that there is an error.

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    $\begingroup$ Singular "they". If you don't know the sex of who you're talking about, you can use a singular they to avoid the awkward he/she/it list. $\endgroup$ Nov 9, 2015 at 15:50
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    $\begingroup$ For more info: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Singular_they $\endgroup$ Nov 9, 2015 at 15:51
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    $\begingroup$ It should be "...about themself", though. $\endgroup$
    – user147263
    Nov 9, 2015 at 15:53
  • $\begingroup$ @DanielFischer Not in a million years would I have guessed that. Still glad I asked though. It was eating at me for a while now. $\endgroup$
    – gebruiker
    Nov 9, 2015 at 15:56
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    $\begingroup$ I asked the same on English.SE: here $\endgroup$
    – Surb
    Nov 9, 2015 at 15:56
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    $\begingroup$ @NormalHuman Not if they prefer to keep an air of mystery about them like I prefer to keep my Swiss army knife about me. $\endgroup$ Nov 9, 2015 at 16:01
  • $\begingroup$ @DanielFischer Fair point. I don't think I ever tried hard enough to parse the meaning of the phrase. $\endgroup$
    – user147263
    Nov 9, 2015 at 16:02
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    $\begingroup$ This seems related: Why is the blank profile sentence not grammatically correct? (on the main meta). $\endgroup$ Nov 9, 2015 at 16:29
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    $\begingroup$ @Daniel: Et tu, Brute? Are you also one of the last MacGyver fans on the face of this earth? $\endgroup$
    – Asaf Karagila Mod
    Nov 9, 2015 at 17:54
  • $\begingroup$ @Asaf, heck no, I still like MacGyver even if I last watched it decades ago. (FWIW, I steadfastly refuse to accept "singular they/them".) $\endgroup$ Nov 18, 2015 at 0:37
  • $\begingroup$ @J.M.: There's also a small comic book that was released a few years ago with a story line that looks a bit like a two-part episode of MacGyver. It's pretty fun! $\endgroup$
    – Asaf Karagila Mod
    Nov 18, 2015 at 18:51

1 Answer 1

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The words "they", "them", "their" are also commonly used as singular gender-neutral forms. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Singular_they

Thus, the "them" there is intentional and not in error.

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    $\begingroup$ But also note, from the wikipedia site, "... its use has been criticized since the late nineteenth century, and acceptance varies." $\endgroup$
    – JDH
    Nov 10, 2015 at 13:03
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    $\begingroup$ acceptance varies ... In other words: Don't use in on your English homework, but also don't criticize others (such as stackexchange) for using it. $\endgroup$
    – GEdgar
    Nov 10, 2015 at 13:10
  • $\begingroup$ Referring to an indefinite person like everybody or someone as "they" has been used since Shakespeare's time. However, it seems to me that referring to a specific definite person like the author of a book whose gender is unknown as "they" had been almost non-exsistent before the PC was fashionable in the 1980s. Instead "he" had been universally used as a gender-neutral pronoun. An indefinite person like everybody is semantically plural as the following sentence shows: "Everybody knows each other". However, a specific definite person like the author of a book is strictly singular. $\endgroup$ Nov 23, 2015 at 9:59
  • $\begingroup$ I am neither particularly well-placed nor interested to discuss the merits of the chosen formulation or even the general practice. The point of my answer merely was to state that the present usage is common and not a clear and simple error as OP might have thought (and that they thought so is not surprising to me as indeed I never learned that usage while being taught English as a foreign language for quite some time). $\endgroup$
    – quid Mod
    Nov 23, 2015 at 11:29

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