[tex-k] bug in The TeXbook

Shreevatsa R shreevatsa.public at gmail.com
Wed Jan 13 08:52:18 CET 2021

Whether or not this is a "bug" by someone's definition, this (use of "he"
for a generic person) is likely something that Knuth would like to know
about, and ought to be passed on to him. He has mentioned in a couple of
places about taking out sexist pronouns (his words) from his writings when
he gets a chance to republish / make new editions. I remember seeing it in
print somewhere, but he mentions it somewhere near the beginning of this
2003 talk at the Computer History Museum:

As another example, the preface to Volume 1 of TAOCP (page v) had, in the
first edition (1968) the sentence:
> "The prerequisites are actually very simple, but a beginner requires time
and practice before he properly understands the concept of a digital
In the second edition (1973) the "he" has a footnote (which is why I
noticed this):
> "* or she. Masculine pronouns in this book are usually not intended to
connote gender. Occasional chauvinistic comments are not to be taken
In the third edition (1997), the "he" is gone:
> "The prerequisites are actually very simple, but a beginner requires time
and practice in order to understand the concept of a digital computer."

All this is just to say, might as well pass it on.

On Mon, 11 Jan 2021 at 02:20, Jonathan Kew <jfkthame at gmail.com> wrote:

> On 11/01/2021 03:43, 胡亚捷 (Hu Yajie) wrote:
> > I wonder if it is too late to send this bug report: Page A350, line 30
> > uses "he" to refer to "someone", which of source excludes women and
> > nonbinary people.
> No, it doesn't. Knuth is writing in English. Longstanding English usage
> supports the use of "he" as to refer to a person of undetermined gender.
> See sense 2(b) in the Oxford English Dictionary
> (https://www.oed.com/view/Entry/84893?rskey=gNPj03&result=4#eid):
>  > 2. b. In anaphoric reference to a singular noun or pronoun of
> undetermined gender. Cf. they pron. 2.
> The OED quotations illustrating this usage range from pre-1200 AD Old
> English to 21st-century media.
> It's true that in recent years some people have chosen to take offense
> at this usage, and the use of "they" for a singular antecedent is widely
> promoted as an alternative (and also has longstanding historical
> support, with quotations dating back to the 15th century:
> https://www.oed.com/view/Entry/200700#eid18519864).
> Still, the use of "he" to refer to a generic individual "someone" of
> unknown/unspecified gender, is not a "bug" by any reasonable standard of
> established English usage.
> JK
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