Lamenting the Loss of the Pronoun “One”

At the risk of sounding snobbish, I lament the loss of “one” as a pronoun. It’s still around, understood to be a generic impersonal pronoun which can function in the first, second, or third person. Unfortunately, its use nowadays is considered to be too formal for common use and has been replaced with the more informal “you.”

Grammar experts recognize that one, you, we, and they are all generic impersonal pronouns, meaning they refer to a person or people in general. But since “one” seems too formal for today’s casual society, it is increasingly replaced with “you.”

And that’s the crux of my complaint. In my experience as a blogger, using “you” is all too often personalized by the reader. Instead of understanding that I’m applying my ideas to people in general, the pronoun “you” is interpreted to mean I’m pointing at the reader. Unfortunately, readers can easily find that offensive and take issue! The potential for an interesting exchange of ideas is hijacked with an assumption of something I never intended in the first place. The exchange becomes one of trying to clarify (often to no avail) my point. I never have this problem when I use “one” instead of “you.”

In the first person, I’m just as happy to say “I” to refer to myself as “one.” For the third person, however, I think we should seriously consider a return to using “one” instead of “he,” “she,” “s/he,” or whatever we’re trying to do nowadays to not offend anyone. “One” perfectly fits the bill.

If we are trying to communicate useful and meaningful ideas, what purpose do distractions in the form of pronouns serve? Especially when they offend someone or make them defensive. Why derail intelligent conversation when we can easily encourage it with a simple indefinite, gender-neutral pronoun no matter how stuffy it sounds?

Care to join me in my return it its use? The more often people read and hear it, the more common–and acceptable–it will become. I think it’s a simple step in the right direction.