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From the "Colgate employees who need to get a life" file, this e-mail dated March 4:

I'm writing to you as the managing editor of the Maroon News, fully realizing that someone else on your staff is most likely responsible for the error I am about to point out; I know you will pass this along as appropriate. The following phrases appeared in the March 1 Campus Safety Blotter:

"A staff member reported their vehicle hit and damaged ..."
"A resident of 80 Broad Street reported their vehicle damaged ..."
"A visitor reported their vehicle damaged ..."

Pronouns must agree with their subjects in both gender and number. Thus, "a staff member reported (his or her) vehicle ..." Presumably the gender of the person reporting the incident is known, so the correct gender-specific pronoun should be used when the report is published. If the gender of the person is unknown, then use an article rather than a possessive pronoun ("a staff member reported a vehichle ..."). Or better yet, find out the gender of the person reporting the incident, which will allow you to use the appropriate pronoun, and make the statement more precise. The pronoun "their" is a plural pronoun, and may not be used with "a staff member," "a resident, "a visitor," or any other singular subject.

Your proofreaders should have caught these errors -- to write them is bad enough; to publish them is an embarrassment for all the world to see and judge. I assume you wish the paper to reflect well on both the student body and the paper's staff, which is why I share this observation with you. For what it's worth, this particular grammatical error can be found everywhere lately -- radio commercials ("Tell a friend about us and put a little sunshine in their day"), television commercials (a specific example escapes me at the moment), and all over the place in print. My theory is that it's an aftermath of politically-correct gender speech -- people are too lazy to write "his or her" in lieu of the now-unacceptable "his" only (regardless of gender), and so have slipped into using the more neutral "their" even when it's absolutely incorrect to do so. It's become so common, most people barely notice it. However, it is still incorrect.

Speech and writing are the outermost windows through which everyone views a person's education; that this type of mistake actually makes it into print at an institution like Colgate is simply unaccepable.


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