The World Needs “Ze,” and Fordham Does Too




A revolution is afoot. Harvard University has implemented a policy which allows its incoming students to select the pronoun that will be used to describe them. However, this goes beyond simply men choosing “she” and women choosing “he.” A third option, “ze,” is being offered, and it is meant to provide representation to anyone who does not identify with the traditional binary system. The word (as well as its derivatives and synonyms such as “xe”) has of course also been met with resistance as well; the University of Tennessee was pressured by state senators to discontinue the advocacy of the word. But the truth is, at the end of the day, we need this word, and Fordham could gain a lot by using it too.

The criticism of ze is understandable. At face value it seems inappropriate that any university, a place meant to uphold high educational standards and advance the development of the human mind, would advocate for the usage of a word that does not technically exist. But the problem with this perspective is that it presumes that the invention of words is an innate affront to the English language, and this is not the case. True, certain “invented” words have given the process a very bad connotation. When Sarah Palin “invented” the word “refudiate,” and then decided to stand by her “invention,” she simply came across as looking ridiculous. But this is because that word is purposeless; it mashes together two words that already exist, refute and repudiate, and does not have a unique function that cannot be carried out by a pre-existing word. The exact same thing can be said of the colloquially used “guesstimate.”

But the only synonym for the word “ze” is “it,” and it would be remarkably offensive if “it” was the only pronoun non-binary students had available to use. This means that the function of referring to one who is neither male nor female has gone without a suitable representative. The only recourse thus far has been to inappropriately use the word “they,” a word designated for the plural, whenever we want to refer to a single non-gendered individual. If anything, this is indicative of the fact that our culture has evolved to a point where our system of language simply hasn’t been able to catch up. One belief that is argued in this day and age is that gender exists in a spectrum. Indeed, classifications such as genderqueer, pan-gender, a-gender and bi-gender are just a few of the new terms being affiliated with the “gender revolution” that our generation has taken part in, and none of these genders are comfortable with fully committing to the male pronoun “he” or the female pronoun “she” 100 percent of the time. As it stands, the term “genderqueer” is actually more of a blanket definition that encompasses anyone and everyone that does not fall into the traditional binary gender system, and it makes perfect sense to ascribe a unique pronoun to represent the blanket if none currently exists.

This is why it is unfortunate that the move towards making words like “ze” available is being met with opposition on the state level, as was the case with the University of Tennessee. But the opposition seems to be under the impression that our language is stagnant and should remain so. That is absolutely ridiculous. The English language is and always has been a living organism. Language is a part of culture and culture is comprised of the thoughts and ideals of the people. People grow, and people change. Thus so too does their culture, and language must often be modified in order to better represent these changes in culture. William Shakespeare, one of the most famous English playwrights of all time, is credited with contributing over 1700 words to the English language, many of which are still used in common speech today. He did so because he realized that, as he was writing his plays, there weren’t enough words that could appropriately carry out certain functions that he needed. His plays, a staple of the Elizabethan era, demanded that these functions be effectively carried out, and so the English language needed to be modified to reflect the culture of the time.

To date, Fordham has yet to introduce a policy like Harvard’s. This is problematic, because gender and sexuality are both very real topics that are being discussed within the walls of this campus. It especially becomes a problem in the transgender community: specifically when we talk about individuals that personally identify as one gender, but have to publicly appear as another because they are not ready to reveal their true selves. The official establishment of a gender neutral pronoun (besides “it” or “they”) will make the English language far more inclusive than it has been in the past, and in a place like Fordham— where the objective is to make every student on campus feel as though they belong— this can only be a good thing.