Weekend Word Wrap: Baltimore's gender-neutral pronoun - Yo

David K. Israel

I happen to love the greeting yo. Not a fan of hello or howdy or hi there or how goes it, I'll shout out a hey or a yo if given the choice any day of the week. Maybe it's the casual sound of it that I like so much: Yo, what's up? rolls of the tongue pretty easily for me. Or maybe it's the two short letters Y-O. Whatever the reason, the word sits well with me.

Perhaps this is why I've been following the development of the pronoun yo with great interest. Popular with the YOungins down in Baltimore , in many schools it's being used in place of he or she and is touted by some linguists as a new gender-neutral pronoun. Move over they/them, say yo to your new little cousin yo:

Yo was tuckin' in his shirt! Yo threw a thumbtack at me. Yo been runnin' the halls. Yo put his foot up. She ain't really go with yo. Yo is a clown. Yo sucks at magic tricks. Yo looks like a freak. Yo is a straight clown. Yo goin to put that chicken in his mouth. Yo, looka that dude pants. Yo is a clown.

Now, if you're thinking I've already given too much space to a trivial bit of slang, check this out: Yo has been the subject of a major paper written by Elaine M. Stotko, a linguistics expert at Johns Hopkins University (co-authored with Margaret Troyer, a Baltimore high school teacher) which, for a small fee, can be downloaded here.

I guess the question I'd like to put to all you loyal Wrappers is this: do we need a gender-neutral pronoun? Have we blurred gender roles in our society to the point where we might as well toss out the he/she pronouns altogether?

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