Could you please explain ae/aer and ze/zir and other sorta uncommon pronouns please? I just don’t really understand the need for them. Obviously if someone told me that these were their pronouns I wouldn’t refuse to use them, I just dont necessarily get the need for them
Thanks for the question – it’s a big one! It’s good to have asked, as this can be a knowledge gap for a lot of people.
What you’re calling “uncommon pronouns” are often called “neopronouns” and, despite the name, are not a new concept. If you count incomplete third-person pronoun sets there are records of such pronouns stretching back to 1789 – with usage prior to documentation.
Despite this, when referring to neopronouns you’re probably thinking of more recent, deliberate efforts to introduce an unambiguously singular gender-neutral (“epicene”) pronoun, such as the proposal of “thon” in 1884.
What is notable in recent examples of neopronouns is that they are designed not for an object or person of unknown gender – but of a known gender outside typical singular grammatical gender (masculine, feminine, object).
But to answer the question – why might somebody choose to use these pronouns? Why not just use “they”?
The answer to that, as you might expect, is complicated.
One possible answer is simply: singular “they” is uncomfortable. Although it is a grammatically correct reference, there is potential for confusion around the plural form – something that can be more rigid within certain English dialects and thus may be harder to relate to or manage at the individual level.
Otherwise, an individual may be trying to communicate something about their gender through these other forms of address. There may be some evocative “feeling” not captured by more usual pronouns.
Whilst this is true of some who are nonbinary in the traditional sense, there are others under the umbrella that tend to make heavy use of neopronouns: those identifying with “xenogenders”. In simple terms, these are individuals who feel that their conceptions of gender to not relate to typical descriptions – and may often describe their sense of gender through metaphorical means. This is mostly prevalent among neurodiverse, particularly autistic, individuals who may not connect with the typical social constructions of gender.
Another reason that may be overlooked – and has little to do with one’s gender – is as political expression; the “hu” pronoun’s proposal comes from ideals rooted in humanism and egalitarianism. One may adopt such a pronoun set to further its usage, or express agreement with those ideals beyond filling the lexical gap it’s designed for.
It would perhaps be worthy of not that the reason for using a particular set of neopronouns does not have to reflect their origins. For example the “ae/aer” pronoun set was originally developed for a 1920s novel by David Lindsay – but it would certainly be a stretch to suggest that all users of these pronouns are familiar with its history and, even if they are, that they were aware at the point the adopted their use.
Equally, “ze”, and its derivative pronoun sets, have a rather unclear history – with claims of first use ranging from 1864 right up to 1972. With that in mind, other than its seemingly Germanic roots, how could anyone adopt that set for some intended developmental meaning?
There’s a lot of information here, and no doubt some will be unfamiliar. Regardless, we hope that it has given some insight as to why people may prefer these.