LINGUIST List 2.764

Thu 07 Nov 1991

Qs: Doohickeys, Person, Singular They

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  2. Ellen Prince, the category 'person'
  3. Michael Newman, Singular They

Message 1: doohickeys

Date: Wed, 6 Nov 91 10:53:22 -0500
Subject: doohickeys
Can anyone suggest a name for the class of words in English that is used
in the situation where you can't remember the name for something?
I mean the words like doohicky, thingamabob, thingummy, thingamajig ...
I am provisionally calling them 'nonsense filler words', but I'd be
interested to know if any one has discussed them.
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Message 2: the category 'person'

Date: Wed, 06 Nov 91 21:57:45 EST
From: Ellen Prince <>
Subject: the category 'person'
could anyone recommend any work on the category 'person'? linguistic,
crosslinguistic, acquisition, processing, anything. thanks.
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Message 3: Singular They

Date: Wed, 06 Nov 91 22:53:40 EST
From: Michael Newman <MNEHCCUNYVM.bitnet>
Subject: Singular They
warning long query!
I am doing a dissertation on 'singular they', ie. THEY coreferent to a formally
singular non-collective NP. I noticed in preparing a history of English class
that in one version of the Canterbury tales (the Signet Classic by Donald How-
ard) that although what is normally (mis)called 'generic he' predominates,
there is one example of singular they in the prologue to the Pardoner's Tale
(lines 57-59)
And WHOSO (=whoever) findeth HIM out of swich blame/THEY wol coome up and offre
 in Goddes name/And I assoile(=absolve) HIM by th'auctoritee...
Checking another cheapo paperback edition (A. C. Cawley's Everyman) the same
verses have all 'generic' masculines. And this is the version found in the
more authoritative editions apparently. Our Chaucer teacher assures me that in
her edition that contains all textual variants, she only finds 'generic' mascu-
lines inthse verses. So it would seem that someone made a mistake with one word
No big deal right? Yet another of the paperbacks contains the following
rendition of the se same lines:
And WHO SO fyndeth HIM out of swich blame/ THEY will come up and offre in
Goddes name and I assoille HEM (=them) by the auctoritee... (from K. Kee's
Geoffrey Chaucer: a selection of his works.) My Chaucer expert friend assures
me that she has no idea of where these 3plurals are coming from, and she
gave me an address of someone who might know, but so far he hasn't responded.
So I am appealing generally to see if anyone has an idea or who I might ask.Or
if anyone knows of any examples of this older than those in the OED. Probably
it would be best to respond directly to me rather than burdening the list with
what is probably not of general interest. THANKS Michael Newman.
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