CNN Debases Itself as Platform for ‘Neopronouns,’ ‘Nounself Pronouns’
CNN wants you to take “neopronouns” seriously — so much so that on Saturday they published an 1,800-word-long “Guide to Neopronouns.” The article promotes pronoun activist Dennis Baron’s 2020 book, “What’s My Gender?” If you’ve never heard of “neopronouns” before, that’s because it’s unlikely you’ve ever met anyone who uses them — or ever will.
What is a neopronoun? you might reasonably ask. CNN provides “a few relatively common neopronouns, and how to use them,” because chances are you’ve never heard of them. The “relatively common” list includes: “xe/xyr,” “ze/zir,” “fae/faer,” “ey/em/eir,” and “ae/aer.” You’ll be pleased to know that Microsoft Word placed squiggly red lines under most of these meaningless letter combinations. The usage of each word is so intuitive that CNN included example sentences and a pronunciation guide for each — though they noted that “Some of these pronouns may be pronounced differently based on their user.”
For some of these “neopronouns,” saying them out loud only adds to the confusion. For instance, CNN says that “xe/xyr” and “ze/zir” are both pronounced “zee/zeer,” while “ey/eir” and “ae/aer” are both pronounced “aye/air.” (What other word is pronounced with a “long-I” sound?) One virtue of real pronouns is that they cannot be mistaken for one another.
Baron, an emeritus professor of English and Linguistics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, told CNN that “Neopronouns should be used and respected like any other pronoun.” But “neopronouns” are not like other pronouns. They’re new, made-up, hard to say, and difficult to use and remember. Most importantly, whereas real pronouns each serve a particular function and have a universally understood meaning, “neopronouns” have no meaning, or a poorly defined one.
CNN quoted LGBT advocacy group Human Rights Campaign (HRC), which claimed that neopronouns are a “step towards a society where people can more fully express all parts of themselves” and a “reflection of (someone’s) personal identity.”
But hijacking pronouns as a vehicle for self-expression neutralizes that part of speech’s entire reason for existence. Pronouns are grammatical pinch-runners, or, more technically, “A pronoun is a word that takes the place of a noun.” Personal pronouns, in particular, communicate a wealth of information — person, number, gender, sentence position, etc. — in a single word, with each element providing both clarity and meaning. Pronouns serve as verbal shorthand, and their utility relies on their simplicity. Packing expressive content into pronouns is like playing a walkout song for pinch runners.
But Baron argued, “People like to have a say in how they’re identified. Refusing to let people self-identify is a way of excluding them.” (In pursuit of language inclusivity, his most recent work endorses restrictions on free speech.) But this premise is simply not true, at least outside the academy. In many contexts — the deaf community, military units, etc. — a person achieves inclusion when other members of the group assign him or her a nickname, and often an unflattering one.
Even inside of the academy, it does not follow from Baron’s premises that a person’s self-identity must be accepted. For instance, what if a professor insisted on the title “Dr.” even though he had never performed any doctoral-level work. I expect that Baron, who completed a Ph.D., would justly refuse to acknowledge that professor’s self-identification. His doing so would be an act of exclusion, but those who have earned a doctoral degree is by definition an exclusive club.
Following Baron’s lead, the CNN propaganda piece attempts to argue that “neopronouns have a long history” — a patent contradiction. But by “a long history,” Baron means 120 years. The King James Bible and Shakespeare are thrice as old, not to mention Chaucer, Beowulf, or the 7th century laws of Aethelberht I of Kent.
Unsurprisingly, most of Baron’s “neopronoun” history is not about rejecting the gender binary at all. It mostly consists of unsuccessful efforts to create “a personal pronoun of the third person, singular number, that will indicate both sexes,” as feminist educator Ella Young said in 1912. Some early failed attempts include “thon” (conjunction of “that one”) and “heer/hiser/himer” (conjunctions of the male and female pronouns), as well as “ze” and “hir.” But these all failed to catch on because they sound neither nice nor grammatical, so few people want to use them, even when made aware of them. Recycling these failed attempts and pitching them as non-binary makes them no more grammatical or aesthetically pleasing.
Despite attempts to make it seem mainstream and historical, the push for more “expressive” pronouns is actually downstream from transgender ideology’s denial of the binary nature of biological sex. Baron said neopronouns “expand the ways that people are able to indicate their gender identity to encompass anyone who is trans or nonbinary, as well as those who choose an altogether different term to characterize their gender.”
In other words, a person insisting on others referring to them with “neopronouns” can communicate only one thing: “I refuse to identify as male or female.” This is essentially true, regardless of which “neopronouns” the person chooses. Even if different shades of meaning existed in the person’s own mind between, say, “xe/xyr” and “ze/zir,” he or she could hardly expect a friend or relative to understand the difference; they are made-up words that sound alike. Yet, unlike every other word and part of speech, there seem to be no constraints on usage regarding “neopronouns,” and HRC has even suggested that the “number and types of neopronouns a person may use (are) limitless.”
Using preferred pronouns — even the classic ones — is “conceding the moral language to the Left’s understanding of identity politics rather than offering a biblical understanding of morality and hope,” as Rosaria Butterfield put it. Like the builders of Babel’s tower, trans advocates envision a future without limits (Genesis 11:1-9). But, also like those rebellious builders, they are confused in their language. And Christians have an obligation not to participate in their confused rebellion, but instead to clearly hold out the message of salvation in Christ.
If the advocates pushing this gender-non-conforming language were willing to self-regulate and impose their own limits on the anarchy of “neopronouns,” they would at least find a sympathetic audience in some corners. As it is, it’s impossible to see how their random and ever-fluctuating assortment of sounds can be taken seriously. I could not pitch a TWS article in gibberish, tell my wife I love her using words composed of randomly combined letters, or order a Number Three Deluxe at the drive-thru using terms coined in the Jabberwocky. Nor should anyone take me seriously if I tried.
One dangerous but logical application of the claim that “neopronouns” are “limitless” is the dehumanizing effect of “nounself pronouns.” What, did you think we had already plumbed the depths of this rabbit hole? Sometime around 2012 or so, some clever but ungrounded teenagers who spent too much time online took the “limitless” logic to the extreme and began using real-world nouns in place of pronouns to describe themselves. These pronouns — CNN offered “leaf, sun, star” as examples — describe a person with language that commonly describes an inanimate object, instead of with personal pronouns. This is dehumanizing language, denying the image of God in man, whether those who insist upon or go along with it, realize what they’re doing or not.
It’s alarming how seriously CNN treats this absurdity. They take time to explain:
For someone who uses the nounself pronoun “leaf,” that may look like: “I hope leaf knows how proud we are that leaf is getting to know leafself better!” or “Leaf arrived at the coffee shop before me; I was mortified to have been late to meet leaf.”
“Nounself pronouns” directly invert the roles of language. Remember, a pronoun is a word that takes the place of a noun. Here, a noun is taking the place of a pronoun. This is indistinguishable from avoiding pronouns altogether; “Leaf” in this short example would function just as well if used as a proper name. Of course, very few people — grown-ups, at least — would take seriously a child’s demand that the child be called “Leaf,” instead of their given name. But this only shows the inherent childishness of pretending that pronouns function differently.
CNN advanced one more argument in defense of nonsense-words — an argument calculated to short-circuit logical refutation altogether. “I just like the neopronouns,” actress Dua Saleh said last year, after appropriating “xe” pronouns. “I feel like they fit me better, not all the time, but they’re just fitting. There’s an element where I’m just like, ‘Oh, this sounds really nice.’ Or it sounds nice coming out of my mouth or hearing other people say it.” Choosing a word because it sounds nice might be poetic (or onomatopoetic), but it is no substitute for choosing a word that means what you want to say.
Pronouns are not even the best way of expressing emotive states. One “nounself pronoun” user wrote on a 2016 questionnaire that he or she sometimes insisted on being called “pup/pupself” to “express a level of fun, happiness and excitement … in me.” It is much simpler to state in plain English, “I am a fun, happy, and excited person” than try to make others understand “nounself pronouns.” It would be even more effective to demonstrate a life of fun, happiness, and excitement that would make others respond, “there is a fun, happy, and excited person.” (It’s possible or even likely that the person was trying to affect an online persona of “fun, happiness, and excitement” not entirely consistent with their real-life personality, but this is not the time to open that can of worms.)
Saleh accentuated the expressive-feeling aspect of her “neopronoun” choice by admitting that these pronouns fit her better “not all the time.” The meaning of the made-up words — whether they applied to her or not — depended on how she felt that day. Communication would be impossible if this sort of chaos applied more broadly. “You might call it ‘the presidency,’” one might say, “but I prefer to call the office ‘burgermeister’ when I’m feeling hopeless, ‘hot rod’ when I feel carefree, ‘wild salmon’ when I’m feeling adventurous, and ‘baked potato’ when I’m feeling hungry.” Such a practice might communicate your emotive state, but it would not communicate ideas effectively. Shared language is for communicating ideas; emotions can be communicated with grunts, hand gestures, and facial expressions.
“Some critics of nounself pronouns feel that the words sound ‘silly’ or ‘make it harder for transgender and nonbinary people to be taken seriously,’” CNN noted. But they failed to note these are criticisms made by people who identify as transgender or nonbinary; The New York Times noted this when they wrote their own Neopronoun Guide, published in 2021 (the Grey Lady long ago abandoned its motto, “all the news that’s fit to print”).
CNN also failed to note that these critics are right. These words do sound silly. And such nonsense does make it harder for the trans movement to be taken seriously. But the nonsense words proceed directly from the nonsense principles of transgender ideology, so that’s only what it deserves.
“Like it or not, lots of new words pop up every day,” was Baron’s parting shot. True. But only the serviceable words last. As Baron’s own history of gender-neutral pronouns that failed to catch on demonstrates, lame new words die again just as quickly as they arose. “Neopronouns” are confusing, unintuitive, unstable, absurd, and, above all, unloving.
Joshua Arnold is a staff writer at The Washington Stand.