Two more writing style guides have officially accepted the usage of “they” as a replacement for “he/she” and all the other singular gender-neutral pronouns out there. In their newest editions, both the Chicago Manual of Style and the AP Stylebook include this usage of “they.” The main usage for the JGR Space Physics crowd is in responses to anonymous reviewers. Manuscript authors can and do guess, but the when it comes down to writing the responses to the referee reports, please do not assume a male reviewer. Using “they” instead keeps is free of sexism.
The “singular” adjective just means that “they” is standing in for an individual person, and because you do not know their gender (hey, see, I just used it!), “they” is becoming an acceptable pronoun choice in this context. Furthermore, even though it’s being called the “singular they,” you still use plural verbs with it. This is what we do with “you.” We don’t say “you is” even when referring to a singular you, we still say “you are.” The same is true for “they.” Please make it plural and write “they are” or “they were” or whatever verb you choose.
I’ve written about the singular they before and several other times about gender-neutral wording. Please don’t assume the masculinity of your reviewer, or in any writing where the person’s gender is unknown. This is offensive to me and, probably, to most women in space physics who don’t need the bro culture bias.
Once again, I have to thank Grammar Girl for letting me know about this. I often listen to podcasts when I jog and earlier this month she had one devoted to this topic. In fact, most of the content of this post is straight from her podcast. It’s worth repeating here. I’m even reusing her very nice graphic.