yo thinking about pronouns (again)

1) I saw a sign in the subway a few days ago.

It said that “a fare increase will be going into affect.”


It was a fancy electronic sign, probably one of many through the system, the sort which I’m sure are all run from a central location. So, as soon as somebody figures out the problem, all of the signs in the system can be fixed simultaneously.

So, it’s better than the new medical facility near me, where “All insurance is accetped.” That’s on a huge printed sign — more difficult and costly to change, I’m sure.

2) I did not expect The New Yorker to write about Harley Quinn. Not the quasi-trilogy of movies starring Margot Robbie as the former Dr. Harleen Frances Quinzel — this article is talking about the very violent, very obscene HBO Max cartoon series which stars Kaley Cuoco as Harley and Lake Bell as Poison Ivy, Harley’s friend/lover/partner-in-crime: “The Violent Delights of ‘Harley Quinn’

The one thing I want to emphasize a bit more than the article does is that Harley and Ivy seem like a real couple — they work through problems as they come up, in healthy and realistic ways, despite the fact that they are both incredibly, and very differently, misanthropic. Ivy prizes plant life and loathes human beings — other than Harley — and Harley is both a violent, unpredictable sociopath and a trained psychiatrist (and those do not overlap, which would be a cliche at this point). When Dr. Quinzel takes over, she is completely focused and empathetic. And Harley’s scenes counseling Bruce Wayne (both as a grown man and as a traumatized boy who has just watched his parents get murdered) are wonderful. (She even attempts to collect a copay at one point, but little Bruce informs her that “rich people insurance doesn’t have copays.”)

One thing I disagree with, of course, is this: “The intricate plotting extends to the playfully dirty but heartfelt romance between Harley and Ivy. Like all love stories, it inevitably dipped in excitement once the characters finally committed to each other.”

Since it was pretty obvious from the first episode that they were getting together eventually (and that it couldn’t be rushed, since Harley was getting out of a very toxic relationship and that wouldn’t be healthy), it was pleasant and fun to watch but not compelling. Staying together is the really interesting part (see the article, and my comments above).

Here’s the Season 4 trailer. Definitely not safe for work.

3) This was interesting: “Is ‘Yo’ the Gender-Neutral Pronoun You’ve Been Looking For?

I remember a friend, years ago (decades, actually) who proposed that “Black English” had advantages over regular English, in that it was more adaptable to changing demands and circumstances. Regular English has various rules and rule books and so on (French and Spanish have this also, and I’m sure other languages do as well).

Here are some quotes from the article linked to above:

This “yo” is a straightforward, gender-neutral third-person pronoun — basically “heesh,” but not as ridiculous sounding. “Yo was tuckin’ in his shirt!” is an example Stotko and Troyer documented. This “yo” did not mean “you,” because the reference was certainly not to someone tucking in someone else’s shirt. A female teacher was handing out papers, and someone remarked — not to the teacher herself — “Yo handin’ out papers.” Someone else used “Yo is a clown” to describe a third party.

Wrap your head around it, and you can see this pronoun is pretty awesome. The interjection “Yo!” has been retooled, so that what started as a way of calling someone has become a way of calling out — i.e., pointing out — someone. The new “yo” means, in its way, “the one whom one ‘yo’s.” And it applies to no gender in particular. Baltimore Black English achieved what mainstream English never has: a gender-neutral pronoun that doesn’t force some other pronoun to moonlight in a new role.

Standard language unites us. But with nonstandard language, nothing — no dictionaries, no tut-tutting by experts — pulls it back from doing what it wants to do. It tends to be built out compared to standard language, “buff” as it were. It should be common knowledge that such variations are of interest not merely because of the cultures they represent but also because of their sheer grammatical intricacy.

The appeal (an appeal) of “yo” is that it feels, and apparently is, organic. Rules and rule books can sometimes work in languages when they are, or are claiming to be, maintaining “proper” or “correct” usage. However, it’s very difficult to change language by setting up new rules, because (as a friend of mine observed once) habit is the most powerful force in the universe, and because it makes people question why they should listen to your rules anyway (and because there’s usually no general agreement, among all the people who feel that a change is needed, about specifically what that change should be).

Philip B. Corbett of the New York Times used to have a wonderful blog called “After Deadline” where he reported on the language used in the Times (rules followed, rules broken, the reasons for the rules, the reasons for changing the rules, etc.) and he used to say that he never set up absolute yes/no rules about things, since that would have made it embarrassingly obvious that people weren’t following his rules anyway.

4) I’m terrible with anniversaries and birthdays and occasions & milestones like that (well, I’m not terrible with them — I’m just oblivious to them), so I completely missed the fact that this blog now has over a thousand posts. This one here, when published, will be 1,003. So, let’s have a belated… whatever might be appropriate. Yay.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
This entry was posted in Blog News, Comic Books, Grammar. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.