Writing With Neopronouns
Welcome back to Queering the Narrative! We took a brief break from writing advice for the holidays, but this week I wanted to touch on a topic that’s recently come up a lot in my circles: writing with neopronouns.
As I’ve mentioned previously, a good way to signal that a character is non-binary is to switch up which pronoun you’re using for them. Currently, the only standardized gender-neutral pronoun is they/them — but that doesn’t mean that’s your only option!
What are Neopronouns?
A neopronoun is a pronoun set which has been created with the intent of making a gender-neutral pronoun. These pronouns do not arise “organically,” but were instead curated specifically by people who wanted to use them.
Some may argue that this somehow makes neopronouns less legitimate, because they are “made up.” However, all words are made up; neopronouns are just intentionally made up, like “computer” or “genome.”
Even good-faith people sometimes struggle to wrap their heads around neopronouns, and I think that’s simply because neopronouns are completely new words that one is being asked to learn. Pronouns are something that most folx don’t even think about (though they should!). To tell someone that they now have to learn a new pronoun can feel like a big ask to some people
In my opinion, this is why they/them has managed to catch on as the go-to gender neutral pronoun. Even if not everyone realizes they can use they/them as a singular pronoun, everyone knows the word. Neopronouns, however, are intimidating in the same way that any new word can be, because they do take some getting used to!
Writing with Neopronouns
So, why is writing with neopronouns important?
Well, first, off, writing with neopronouns normalizes their existence. Seeing a neopronoun in written prose or hearing one spoken aloud in dialogue will allow more people to see them in use, to hear the way they sound, and that will make them feel familiar. This, in turn, will pave the way for folx to get comfortable using them in their day to day life.
Secondly, real human people use neopronouns in their daily lives. As I’ve discussed before, representation is immensely powerful and validating, and so it can be an incredible thing to portray a character (or an entire society!) which utilizes neopronouns in day-to-day life.
Examples of Neopronouns
Really, anything in the world can be a pronoun, so long as you have an idea how to conjugate it and keep your antecedents in order. You can absolutely go ahead and make up your own new set of pronouns if you’d like. However, there are a handful of neopronouns which are actually in relatively common usage today (especially in queer circles), so when wiritng with neopronouns it may be a good idea to utilize these, if only to increase their visibility!
Examples: To make it easier to understand how to use these in a sentence, refer to the following sentence which utilizes he/him/his pronouns: He tried to hug his cat and the cat scratched him.
Some neopronouns, listed by year they were created:
- thon/thon/thons: Invented in 1858 by Charles Crozat Converse, this is the earliest recorded set of purposefully invented gender-neutral third person pronouns. Though not the most popular, plenty of folx still use them!
- Thon tried to hug thons cat and the cat scratched thon.
- e/em/es: There are several sets of “E” pronouns, some of which capitalize and conjugate differently, such as the “Spivak Pronouns,” but the earliest version dates back to 1890. Pronounced “ee/ehm/ees”
- E tried to hug es cat and the cat scratched em.
- co/co/cos: Created by Mary Orovan in 1970 as an alternative to he or she, this pronoun set is still in use in the legal language of Twin Oaks, Virginia!
- Co tried to hug cos cat and the cat scratched co.
- xe/xem/xyr: Coined in 1973 by Don Rickter, this is another very popular set of pronouns. Pronounced “zee/zehm/zur.” Several alternative spellings exist, but this is the most popular. You can also see this pronoun set in action in Becky Chambers’ Wayfarers series, as it’s the go-to gender neutral pronoun in that universe!
- Xe tried to hug xyr cat and the cat scratched xem.
- ey/em/eir (Elverson): Created by Christine Elverson in 1975 as an alternative to singular they. Somewhat popular today. Pronounced like “they/them/their” without the “Th.”
- Ey tried to hug eir cat and the cat scratched em.
- hu/hum/hus (Humanist): Created by Sasha Newborn in 1982, these pronouns are based on the word “human” and mean to highlight an individual’s humanity over their gender identity. Pronounced like “Human,” these are sometimes considered the first nounself pronouns (see below).
- Hu tried to hug hus cat and the cat scratched hum.
- ze/zem/zir: Sometimes also ze/zir/zir, this pronoun set was invented in the late 90’s and popularized in 2013. Pronounced “zeh,” “zehm,” and “zeer,” this is one of the more widely used neopronouns today.
- Ze tried to hug zir cat, and the cat scratched zem.
- Nounself Pronouns: “Nounself” pronouns are a special, customizable type of pronoun which uses a word or a part of a word to create a new pronoun set. These are popular among people whose gender identity doesn’t fit into Western culture or binaries. Such folx often feel some internal resonance with the symbolism behind plants, animals, objects, or natural/cultural phenomena. An example of a set of nounself pronouns would be in/ink/inx, which is built on the word “ink” and could be used by one whose identity resonates with being a writer (something I can relate to!). Other examples would be vi/viol/viols (from violet) or lu/lux/lux (from lux, Latin for light).
- Bear in mind that nounself pronouns can be deeply personal, and should not be approached lightly. If you want to create a character that utilizes them, consider both the best way for the pronouns to be conjugated and why that particular idea might resonate with the character.
- In tried to hug inx cat and the cat scratched ink.
Writing with neopronouns can be intimidating because they are currently still being developed and refined, and so it’s very difficult to find definitive sources on their pronunciation, spelling, or conjugations. The good news, though, is that since they’re still evolving it’s difficult to be wrong with them — and, since you’re writing with neopronouns, you can always go back and fix any mistakes you might have made in subsequent drafts!
That’s it for this week! I’m going to be back next week with a deep dive into another LGBTQ+ identity, but until then stay safe, stay healthy, and keep writing!