The Epicene Pronouns:
A Chronology of the Word That Failed

by Dennis Baron

ca. 1850 ne, nis, nim; hiser NY Commercial Advertiser, 7 August 1884, 3.

1868 en Cited by Richard Grant White. The Galaxy, August, 241-44.

1884:

thon, thons Charles Crozat Converse. The Critic, 2 August, 55.

hi, hes, hem Francis H. Williams. The Critic, 16 August, 79-80.

le, lis, lim (from the French); unus; talis Edgar Alfred Stevens. The Current, 30 August, 294.

hiser, himer (hyser, hymer) Charles P. Sherman. The Literary World, 6 September, 294.

ip, ips Emma Carleton. The Current, 20 September, 186.

1888 ir, iro, im (sg.); tha, thar, them (pl.) Elias Molee, Plea for an American Language (Chicago: John Anderson), 200-01.

1889 ons (from one) C.R.B. Writer 3: 231

1890 e (from he), es, em (from them) James Rogers of Crestview, Florida. Writer 4: 12-13

1891:

hizer Forrest Morgan. Writer 5: 260-62.

ith George Winslow Pierce. The Life-Romance of an Algebraist (Boston: J.G. Cupples), 35.

1912 he’er, him’er, his’er, his’er’s Ella Flagg Young. Chicago Tribune, 7 January, 1:7.

1914 hie, hiez, hie (phonetic spellings of he, hes, he) Language reformer Mont Follick, in The Influence of English (London: Williams & Norgate, 1934), pp. 198-99, prefers to reduce all third person sg. pronouns to this simplified version of the masculine paradigm. He further suggests discarding the possessive altogether in favor of the prepositional phrase, ov hie.

1927:

ha, hez, hem; on The Forum 77: 265-68 Attributed by H. L. Mencken to Lincoln King, of Primghar, Iowa. (American Language [N.Y., Knopf, 4th ed., 1936], 460n).

hesh (heesh), hizzer, himmer; on Fred Newton Scott (Scott mentions earlier creation of on). The Forum 77: 754; Mencken adds, "In 1934 James F. Morton, of the Paterson (N.J.) Museum, proposed to change hesh to heesh and to restore hiser and himer" (American Language Supp. 2, 1948, 370).

ca. 1930 thir Sir John Adams; cited by Philip Howard, New Words for Old (N.Y.: Oxford University Press, 1977), 95.

1934 she, shis, shim (gender-specific parallel to he, his, him) Cited by Phillip B. Ballard, Thought and Language (London: Univ. of London Press), 7-8.

1935 himorher; hes (pron. [his]), hir (pron. [hir]), hem; his’n, her’n "The Post Impressionist." Washington Post, 20 August, 6.

1938 se, sim, sis Gregory Hynes, "See?" Liverpool Echo, 21 September; cited by H. L. Mencken (American Language Supp. 2, 1948, 370).

ca. 1940 heesh A. A. Milne; cited by Maxwell Nurnberg, What’s the Good Word? A New Way to Better English (N.Y.: Simon and Schuster, 1942, 88-90).

1945 hse Buwei Yang Chao, How to Cook and Eat in Chinese (N.Y.: Vintage, Random House, 3rd ed., 1963, rpt. 1972), xxiv.

1969 kin Replaces all pronouns in the language of the people of Ata. Dorothy Bryant, The Comforter, rpt. 1971, The Kin of Ata Are Waiting for You (N.Y.: Random House/Moon Books), p. 51.

1970:

she (contains he), heris, herim Dana Densmore, "Speech is the Form of Thought," No More Fun and Games: A Journal of Female Liberation (April); cited in Media Report to Women 3.1 (January 1975): 12.

co (from IE *ko), cos Mary Orovan, Humanizing English (N.Y.: the author).

ve, vis, ver Varda (Murrell) One. Everywoman, 8 May, 2.

1971 ta, ta-men (pl.); a borrowing from Mandarin Chinese. Leslie E. Blumenson, New York Times, 30 December.

1972:

tey, term, tem; him/herself Casey Miller and Kate Swift, "What about New Human Pronouns?" Current 138: 43-45.

fm Paul Kay, Newsletter of the American Anthropological Association 13 (April): 3.

it; z Abigail Cringle of Edgerton, Maryland, rejects epicene it, prefers z. Washington Post, May 2, Sec. A, 19.

shis, shim, shims, shimself Robert B. Kaplan, Newsletter of the American Anthropological Association 13 (June): 4.

ze (from Ger. sie), zim, zees, zeeself; per (from person), pers Steven Polgar of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, proposes the ze paradigm; John Clark offers per. Newsletter of the American Anthropological Association 13 (September): 17-18

1973:

na, nan, naself June Arnold, The Cook and the Carpenter (Plainfield, Vt: Daughters, Inc.).

it; s/he Norma Wilson et al., editors, "A Woman’s New World Dictionary," 51%: A Paper of Joyful Noise for the Majority Sex, 3-4.

s/he; him/er; his-or-her Cited and rejected by Gordon Wood, "The Forewho—Neither a He, a She, nor an It," American Speech 48: 158-59.

shem; herm Quidnunc, "Thon—That’s the Forewho," American Speech 48: 300-02.

se (pron. [si]), ser (pron. [sir]), sim (pron. [sim]), simself William Cowan, of the Department of Linguistics, Carleton University (Ottowa), Times Two 6 (24 May): n.p.

j/e, m/a, m/e, m/es, m/oi; jee, jeue Monique Wittig employs the slashed pronouns as feminines, and cites the latter two which employ the more traditional feminine e; Le corps lesbien (Paris: Editions de Minuit); The Lesbian Body, trans. David LeVay (London: Peter Owen, 1975).

heesh, heesh’s, heeshself Poul Anderson, The Day of Their Return. New York: Nelson Doubleday/New American Library. The pronouns are used to refer to a "triune" species, the Didonians, but only halfheartedly; he is used as well.

1974:

ne, nis, ner Mildred Fenner attributes this to Fred Wilhelms. Today’s Education 4: 110.

she (includes he) Gena Corea, "Frankly Feminist," rpt. as "How to Eliminate the Clumsy ‘He,’" Media Report to Women 3.1 (January 1975): 12.

en, es, ar David H. Stern of Pasadena, California, The Los Angeles Times, 19 January, Sec. 2, p. 4.

hisorher; herorhis; ve, vis, vim Cited by Amanda Smith, Washington Post, 11 April, Sec.A, 29.

shem, hem, hes Paul L. Silverman of Rockville, Maryland, Washington Post, 17 December, Sec. A, 17.

1975:

hir, herim (facetious) Milton Mayer, "On the Siblinghood of Persons," The Progressive 39 (September): 20-21.

hesh, himer, hiser, hermself Jan Verley Archer, "Use New Pronouns," Media Report to Women 3.1 (January): 12.

se (pron. [si]) H. R. Lee of Alexandria, Virginia, Forbes 116 (15 August): 86.

ey, eir, em; uh Christine M. Elverson of Skokie, Illinois, Chicago Tribune, 23 August, Sec. 1, p. 12.

h’orsh’it (facetious blend of he, or, she,and it) Joel Weiss of Northbrook, Illinois, Forbes 116 (15 September): 12.

1976:

ho, hom, hos, homself (from Lat. homo, ‘man,’ and prefix homo-, ‘the same, equal, like’) Donald K. Darnell, in Donald K. Darnell and Wayne Brockriede, Persons Communicating (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall), 148.

he or she; to be written as (s)he Elizabeth Lane Beardsley, "Referential Genderization," in Carol C. Gould and Marx W. Wartofsky, eds., Women and Philosophy (N.Y.: G.P. Putnam’s Sons), 285-93.

she, herm, hs (facetious; pron. "zzz") Paul B. Horton, "A Sexless Vocabulary for a Sexist Society," Intellect 105 (December): 159-60.

it Millicent Rutherford, "One Man in Two Is a Woman," English Journal (December): 11.

ca. 1977:

po, xe, jhe Cited as recent and ephemeral by Casey Miller and Kate Swift, Words and Women: New Language in New Times (Rpt., N.Y.: Anchor Press, 130). Paul Dickson, Words (1982), p. 113, attributes jhe, pronounced "gee," to Professor Milton A. Stern of the University of Michigan.

E, E’s, Em; one E was created by psychologist Donald G. MacKay of the University of California at Los Angeles.

1977:

e, ris, rim Werner Low, Washington Post, 20 February, Sec. C, 6.

sheme, shis, shem; heshe, hisher, himmer Thomas H. Middleton, "Pondering the Personal Pronoun Problem," Saturday Review 59 (9 March). Sheme, etc. proposed by Thomas S. Jackson of Washington, D. C.; Middleton refers to proposals for heshe, hisher, himmer.

em, ems Jeffrey J. Smith (using pseudonym TINTAJL jefry) Em Institute Newsletter (June).

1978:

ae Cited by Cheris Kramer(ae), Barrie Thorne, and Nancy Henley, "Perspectives on Language and Communication," Signs 3: 638-51, as occurring in fiction, especially science fiction.

hir Ray A. Killian, Managers Must Lead! (AMACOM) press release; cited in "The Epicene Pronoun Yet Again," American Speech 54 (1979): 157-58.

hesh, hizer, hirm; sheehy; sap (from homo sapiens) Tom Wicker, "More About He/She and Thon," New York Times, 14 May, Sec. 4, p. 19. Hesh etc. proposed by Prof. Robert Longwell of the University of Northern Colorado; sheehy by David Kraus of Bell Harbor, N.Y.; sap (facetiously) by Dr. Lawrence S. Ross, of Huntington, N.Y.; Wicker adds that several readers offered blends of he, she, and it.

heesh, hiser(s), herm, hermself Leonora A. Timm, "Not Mere Tongue in Cheek: The Case for a Common Gender Pronoun in English," International Journal of Women’s Studies 1: 555-65.

 e,  im,  ir(s) Reviving the Old English letter called thorn, to be used for the unvoiced th sound.  e is to rhyme with ‘he’ and contrast with 2 pers. sg. voiced thee.  ane (‘thane’) to be used for person of unspecified sex: man, woman,  ane. John Newmeyer, Ph.D., of San Francisco, in The People’s Almanac # 2, by David Wallechinsky and Irving Wallace (New York: William Morrow, 1978), pp. 1374-75.

1979:

one Lillian E. Carleton, "An Epicene Suggestion," American Speech 54: 156-57.

et, ets, etself Aline Hoffman of Sarnia, Ontario; cited by William Sherk, Brave New Words (Toronto: Doubleday Canada, 1979).

hir, hires, hirem, hirself Jerome Ch’en, Professor of History at York University, New York Times, 6 January, 18.

shey, sheir, sheirs; hey, heir, heirs Paul Encimer favors the first over the second paradigm. The Peacemaker 32 (February): 2-3.

1980 it Herman Arthur, "To Err Is Huperson; to Forgive, Divine," American Educator 4 (Winter): 30-32.

1981 heshe, hes, hem Ronald C. Corbyn, "Getting Around Sexist Pronouns," Anthropology Newsletter 22 (October): 10-11.

1982:

shey, shem, sheir Mauritz Johnson; cited by William Safire, What’s the Good Word? (N.Y.: Times Books), 30.

E, Ir Subject and possessive forms, created by the Broward County, Florida, public schools; cited by Paul Dickson in Words (N. Y.: Delacorte), 113.

1984:

hiser McClain B. Smith, Ann Arbor News, 20 January, Sec. A, 6.

hes Ernie Permentier, Ms. (May): 22.

hann Steven Schaufele of the Univ. of Illinois linguistics department takes this from Old Norse, already the source of some English pronouns; analogous to Finnish han. Colorless Green Newsflashes 4 (9 November), 3.

1985:

herm Jenny Cheshire traces this to the magazine Lysistrata. "A Question of Masculine Bias," Today’s English 1: 26.

a, un, a’s Although she prefers singular they, Ursula K. Le Guin used this paradigm, based on British dialect, in a 1985 screenplay for her novel The Left Hand of Darkness (1969); the novel itself uses he/his/him. "Is Gender Necessary? Redux" (1976, revised, 1987), in Dancing at the Edge of the World: Thoughts on Words, Women, Places (New York: Grove Press, 1989), p. 15.

1988:

han, hans A. M. Stratford, of Norfolk, England, creates this form to resemble other British initials (HM, HRH, HMS, HE, HMSO), English Today 14:5-6.

e, e’s (from the common letter in he and she) Eugene Wine, of Miami-Dade Community College, also notes that I and you "have already been reduced to a single vowel sound." Chronicle of Higher Education, 21 September, 2.

1989:

ala, alum, alis Michael Knab, of Goodwin, Knab and Co., Chicago, derives these from Lat. al, ‘other’ and feels they resemble the Hawaiian sex-neutral pronouns oia, ia. Press release and personal communication.

e, e’s, emself, em Victor J. Stone, Professor of Law at the University of Illinois at Urbana. In the Chicago Bar Association’s CBA Record 3 (July/August): 12.

1991 de/deis; den/din Richard Strand, Keith Roberson, Dan Fisher, BLAST (Computer) Support Office, Dept. of Mechanical Englineering, Univ. of Illinois. de/deis (rhymes with `dee/dyes’) created de novo with some Germanic influence; den/din created on a similar ‘root’ to replace man/woman and men/women.

1992:

se, hir According to John Cowan (email communication) this paradigm is regularly used on the electronic newsgroup alt.sex.bondage.

E, e, es, eself Qing Guo proposed this on the computer network newsgroup alt.usage.english; the majescule is the subject form, the lower case e the object form; also proposed are U, u, ur, urs, urself, urselves for the second person paradigm.

ghach Marc Okrand uses this epicene pronoun in the Klingon language which he created for the Star Trek series. There are no common gender pronouns in Vulcan.

The following appear in The Oxford Companion to the English Language, ed. Tom McArthur (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press), s.v. generic pronoun:

han Business writer Audrie Stratford, Ling’s Lynn, England.

hey Ronald Gill, of Derby, England.

mef George Wardell, Reading, England.

ws, wself Dr. John B, Sykes, editor, Concise Oxford Dictionary, 7th ed.

ze, zon Don Manley, Oxford, England.

Earlier versions of this list appeared in my article, "The Epicene Pronoun: The Word That Failed" American Speech 56 (1981): 83-97 and my book, Grammar and Gender (New Haven and London: Yale Univ. Press, 1986). Please send additions and corrections to me at the Department of English, Univ. of Illinois, 608 S. Wright St., Urbana IL 61801 USA.

Dennis Baron is professor of English and linguistics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Send additions to debaron@uiuc.edu.