Conceivably, there may be no more falsely asserted nor condescendingly used word, in the Anglo-American lexicon, than the pronoun, “they.” The word has positive utility in reportage, general observation, and in grammatical conjugation. Nevertheless, it seems to be employed, all too often, to mask a speaker’s lack of sufficient information, yet advance his desire to be convincing, by its counterfeit use and spurious reference. The false, referential use of the pronoun “they,” regarding a subject under discussion, has become a commonly used strategy, employed with the obvious intention to be persuasive, by means of an attempted (false) assurance of the speaker’s impeccably objective observations, viz., “that’s what they are saying.”

We, definitively are not, in this writing referring to the benign intention behind use of the word “they,” as employed with young children, with the intention that the child feel secure (as being an accepted member of his recognized group). It may be reasserted here, that notwithstanding such nurturing intention, the lessons of “we” and “they,” provide the seeds, ultimately, for human prejudice, and by sad empirical extension, conflict and war. However, this topic has been the subject of earlier writings.

In this note, we are specifically directing our focus to the counterfeit use of the word “they,” to disguise a lack of sufficient factual knowledge, by the mythical reference to such third- party pronoun, as a purported authoritative source of information. We are all only too familiar, with such faux declarations, such as, “That is what they are wearing,” “they are saying or doing”. The referential use of “they” is particularly vexing and insensitive in the context of parental chiding of their children; accordingly references to “they,” are universally derided by teenagers; for identical reasons, the tactic is deemed presumptuous and objectionable, when used as in adult discourse as well.

It is a justifiable source of pride that modern American society places great value, legally and sociologically, on the individual citizen; whose rights are insured in its Constitution and Laws.  Every American has the franchise to live his as he wishes and make his own choices. provided he does no harm to other citizens, and generally conforms to normal societal expectations. It may strikingly be observed that, included among our generally non-conforming citizens, are many estimable folks who have contributed in great measure, to the advancement of mankind, in science, humanities and the arts.

The advertising industry is entitled to a free pass, regarding its assertions as to currently acceptable style (“what they are wearing”). The motivation of the industry, familiar to all potential consumers, is to increase sales, by positive industry assertions of stylishness and modernity. Their assertion of “in fashion” is understood, and not misleading, within its nuanced context. Their statements, “That is what they are wearing,” is universally understood in such context, as an expected portrayal by that industry.

It is the desire to subjugate and derogate individual taste or opinion, by arrogant declarations, voicing spurious assertions in an authoritative tone, while wielding the pronoun “they,” as supportive argument, by “pseudo-knowledgeable” self-anointed arbiters, that merits our distain. The reprehensible desire to purportedly assess or value selective reality, such as, “That’s what they are wearing” “That’s what they are saying” “That’s where everyone goes now,” usually delivered in tactically persuasive tones, is a shameful and misleading attempt to appear authoritative and convincing.

Such sham, pseudo-authoritative declarations of accuracy or societal propriety, regarding subjects such as, religion, politics, style, economics, scientific advances, by the cheap tactic of the assertive declaration of a counterfeited “they,” amount to no more than a despicable and vain attempt to portray the false impression of wisdom or knowledgeable experience. They are predictably made by insecure individuals, seeking (undeserved) recognition as an authoritative resource.

One may do well to merely recognize and observe this manifestation of personal insecurity, for what it demonstrates concerning the declarant; however, in response to a speaker’s authoritative references to “they,” one might do well to respond with a friendly query, such as “who are you referring to,” or some other request for clarifying specificity.


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Retired from the practice of law'; former Editor in Chief of Law Review; Phi Beta Kappa; Poet. Essayist Literature Student and enthusiast.

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