My 88-year-old neighbor Charley finally upgraded from a flip phone to a smartphone. Sometimes he is slow to answer it, but if I’m patient, he does pick it up and he radiates verve when he says hello.

What is amazing to me is that he is using that new telephone not just as a phone, but he texts on it, he searches the Internet on it, and he takes photos with his phone and shows others the photos he has taken. While living on this planet for nearly nine decades, Charley has adapted to the changes that have swallowed up his former simple life. He used to answer calls by hollering “I got it!” while going to the place where the phone was attached to the wall, picking up a handset connected to the phone by a spiral cord (not a headset but a handset), and saying hello with the same enthusiasm he has today. He always knew where that old phone was. (Charley remembers the days of party lines but we’re not stepping back in time that far today.)

In earlier years, Charley got his news from the newspaper (some of it he wrote himself when he was a reporter for the Kansas City Star), he used an encyclopedia to look up the capital of Myanmar (Naypyidaw), and he danced to the music of a live band instead of to whatever Alexa decides to play when he has his friend over to practice a few steps.

I believe one of the reasons Charley is still driving, still living with his dog Charley in the house his wife designed and they built in 1965, still dancing, still telling good stories, and still hosting dinner parties (“If everyone brings something to contribute to the meal then I won’t have to cook!” he jokes), is because Charley learned long ago to accept the prevailing trends. Go with the flow. Roll with the punches.

Charley is chill.

I want to be like Charley when I’m 88. Indeed, I want to be like Charley now. When changes happen at the speed of winter winds in Estes Park, I yearn to not just accept them, but embrace them.

Grammar is the exception. As a logophile, I derive pleasure in using the right word in the right place. Always have, always will. When Ann gives me a kumquat and also gives another woman a kumquat, I don’t say, “Me and her took the kumquats from Ann.” It hurts my ears! Nor do I say, “Her and I took the kumquats.” Ouch! Proper grammar dictates that I say, “She and I took the kumquats from Ann.” (Yes, we did.) I’ve heard from several Thunker readers recently complaining about professional radio announcers, respected past presidents, even librarians who misuse their pronouns. We’re embarrassed for them.

In e-mails, on blogs, on social media posts and on job applications, our words are all we have. They represent us. We need to try hard to get them right. Using the proper pronoun is a good place to start.

He is the generally accepted pronoun for a male; she for female. Me works for me (male or female), and we is the plural of me. That’s all good. Here’s where I stumble: I am wholly supportive of the increased awareness and acceptance of non-binary people and look forward to when our society is gender-equitable. Change is slow when an entire culture makes the shift. I have a suggestion I think will help: we need a new word to use as a non-binary pronoun rather than the current they/them.

A person (he/she/me) is singular. They/them indicates plural. If I use the plural pronoun to refer to a single person—which is what non-binary people request—I am using grammatically incorrect language. Good grammar equals credibility.

Therefore, I propose a new pronoun for non-binary: ze. It fits in with the other pronouns, he, she, me, and we, and it is singular. I will be relieved to use ze instead of they, since then I’m not using a plural pronoun for an individual person. (I’ve been in conversations when I’ve gotten lost because I couldn’t tell who was who by the pronouns used. I kept trying to figure out who they were. It ended up they…was.) The plural of ze would be zey/zem, like they/them in traditional sentence structure. It works.

My pronoun solution makes all sorts of sense to me. I would like to propose it to the National Board of Proper Pronouns. Does anyone have their number? I bet Charley will let me use his new phone to call.

You may let The Thunker know what you think at her e-mail address,

© 2022 Sarah Donohoe

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