Pop Culture: The Internet is made of people(s)!

Dennis Volkert

Good news for English curmudgeons in the online social scene.

Facebook users will no longer have to see ungrammatical declarations like ‘‘Debbie changed their profile picture.’’

According to news reports, within a few weeks, the Web site’s users will have to specify his or her gender.

One might think Facebookers and their ilk might not care much about grammar. Evidence suggests that few bloggers, chatters and messageboarders obsess about grammar, spelling, excessive use of all caps, overuse of shorthand, a plethora of emoticons, myriad sentence fragments, widespread computerspeak, rampant spamming and untethered flaming — whatever flaming is.

Therefore, u can understand if I find it HARD TO BELIEVE anyone or anybody would get hung up on subject-verb agreement — if it’s even called that anymore.


Still, it’s encouraging, and necessary. Nobody wants to find out, too late, that when Debbie changed their stuff, Debbie was one person, not several peoples, and that he or she isn’t a female after all.

Facebook’s move is not simply a matter of good or bad English. It’s the inability of computer/computers to decipher singularity/duality on their/its own when it comes to filling out forms.

Even that in theirself isn’t just a computer-specific glitch. Heck, pre-computer forms were an inexact science. And it still are. That’s why you see questionnaires with lines like “Number of person(s) who live in your household.”

So we’re used to all that.

The issue is on a more surreal scale. With the Web, you have a kind of face-to-face socializing with anonymous people, and the most common source of interaction is the written word.

But to make the socializing realistic, it’s better to write like you talk, so you’re not going to be as tightly tied to correct sentence structure. But if you’re reading it, and it’s written like you’re hearing it, you sometimes can’t listen right if you read it wrong.

Kind of like what just happened. Winky face.

The limitations are endless. Problems of this magnitude are too complicated to solve overnight.

For now, we can be reassured that Facebook did his or her part with this small gesture toward proper language considerations. We can worry later about whether Debbie changed their profile picture.

Sturgis Journal