In 1920, Sacramento Bee coined gender-neutral pronoun ‘hir’

Paper sought to replace sexist use of 'he'; effort lasted until 1940s

Emma Hutchinson, Staff Writer

A century ago Sacramento came to the forefront in the long effort to coin a new gender-neutral singular pronoun.

Dozens of new pronouns had been proposed since the early 1800s to replace “he” as the supposedly gender-neutral singular pronoun, and efforts increased when women got the right to vote.

In 1920, the Sacramento Bee coined a new word and announced that “’Hir’ Will Be the Bee’s Word ‘He or She.’”

In in his 2019 book, “What’s Your Pronoun: Beyond He and She,” Dennis Baron wrote that Bee reporters “used hir  only sporadically in their stories, though they did so into the 1940s.”

The word was promoted and ignored in the decades that followed. But, Baron writes, “hir is enjoying a revival as a nonbinary pronoun today.”

Baron favors singular they, but hir might finally catch on, in which case one might say hir heard it in Sacramento first.

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