Spivak pronoun

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The Spivak pronouns are a proposed set of gender-neutral pronouns in English popularized by LambdaMOO based on pronouns used by Michael Spivak. Though not in widespread use, they have been employed in writing for gender-neutral language by some people who dislike the more common alternatives "he/she" or singular they.

Two variants of the Spivak pronouns are in use, highlighted in the declension table below.

Subject Object Possessive Adjective Possessive Pronoun Reflexive
Masculine he laughs I hugged him his heart warmed that is his he loves himself
Feminine she laughs I hugged her her heart warmed that is hers she loves herself
Singular they they laugh I hugged them their heart warmed that is theirs they love themself
Elverson (1975) ey laughs I hugged em eir heart warmed that is eirs ey loves emself
MacKay (1980) E laughs I hugged E Es heart warmed
Spivak (1983)[a] E laughs I hugged Em Eir heart warmed
LambdaMOO “spivak” (1991)[1][2] e laughs I hugged em eir heart warmed that is eirs e loves emself

The original ey has been argued to be preferable to e, because the latter would be pronounced the same as he in those contexts where he, him, his loses its aitch sound.[3]


In 1975, Christine M. Elverson of Skokie, Illinois, won a contest by the Chicago Association of Business Communicators to find replacements for "she and he", "him and her", and "his and hers". Her "transgender pronouns" ey, em, and eir were formed by dropping the "th" from they, them, and their.[4] (See 'em.)

The May 1980 issue of American Psychologist reported on a study by Donald G. MacKay, testing rates at which subjects miscomprehended the gender of a subject in textbook paragraphs when written with he meaning he or she compared with three epicene pronoun sets: E, E, Es, Eself; e, e, es, eself; and tey, tem, ter, temself.[5]

In 1983, a mathematician-educator, Michael Spivak, wrote an AMS-TeX manual, The Joy of TeX (1983), using E, Em, and Eir. His set was similar to Elverson's, but capitalized like one of MacKay's sets. Writing in 2006, Spivak said:[6][unreliable source]

The original pronoun set was not created by me. I think I read about it in a newspaper clipping, perhaps from the Boston Globe, during the time I taught at Brandeis, and I believe it was credited to an anthropologist; later on, when I wanted to use it, I was unable to locate the source. In "The Joy of TeX", I wrote "Numerous approaches to this problem have been suggested, but one strikes me as particularly simple and sensible." I assumed people would figure that I was using a construction I couldn't properly credit, and not consider me so immodest as to praise my own invention (though I guess that was a rather immodest assumption).

In May 1991, a MOO programmer, Roger Crew, added "spivak" as a gender setting for players on LambdaMOO, causing the game to refer to such players with the pronouns e, em, eir, eirs, emself. The setting was added along with several other "fake genders" in order to test changes to the software's pronoun code, and was left in place as a novelty. To Crew's surprise, the Spivak setting caught on among the game's players, while the other gender settings were mostly ignored.[7][8]

Other writers applied Elverson's original “th”-dropping rule and revived “ey”, such as Eric Klein in his legal code for a planned micronation called Oceania.[9] John Williams's Gender-neutral Pronoun FAQ (2004) promoted the original Elverson set (via Klein) as preferable to other major contenders popular on Usenet (singular they, sie/hir/hir/hirs/hirself, and zie/zir/zir/zirs/zirself).[10]


Spivak is one of the allowable genders on many MUDs and MOOs. Others might include some selection of: masculine, feminine, neuter, either, both, "splat" (asterisk), plural, egotistical, royal, and 2nd. The selected gender determines how the game engine refers to a player.

On LambdaMOO, they became standard practice for help texts ("The user may choose any description e likes"), referring to people of unknown gender ("Who was that guest yesterday, eir typing was terrible"), referring to people whose gender was known but without disclosing it ("Yes I've met Squiggle. E was nice."), or of course characters declaring themselves to be of gender Spivak. In recent years (2000 onwards), this usage is declining.[citation needed]

Nomic games, especially on the Internet, often use Spivak pronouns in their rulesets, as a way to refer to indefinite players.[11]

The role-playing game Magical Diary uses spivak pronouns in spell descriptions to refer to the caster, and explains them in an event as a part of magical culture necessitated by interaction with nonhuman species.

Publications employing Spivak pronouns[edit]

Elverson 1975 set (ey, eir, em)[edit]

"Spivak" 1991 set (e, eir, em)[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b The Joy of TeX uses "E", "Em", and "Eir", always capitalized.


  1. ^ Anderson, Judy (1992-05-26). "Re: cross-gendered players". rec.games.mud. Web link.
  2. ^ From 1998 through 2011, LambdaMOO's "help spivak" output described the spivak set as "E - subject", "Em - objective", "Eir - possessive (adjective)", "Eirs - possessive (noun)" and "Emself - reflexive".
  3. ^ [1]
  4. ^ Scanned clipping from Black, Judie (1975-08-23). 1. "Ey has a word for it". Chicago Tribune. p. 12. , published in "Guest Blogger" (2011-07-02). "The Rise of "Transgender"". The Bilerico Project. Retrieved 2011-10-27. 
  5. ^ MacKay, Donald G. (May 1980). "Psychology, Prescriptive Grammar, and the Pronoun Problem". American Psychologist 35 (5). 
  6. ^ "Michael Spivak in an edit to a Wikipedia article". En.wikipedia.org. Retrieved 2011-11-01. 
  7. ^ Jones, Steve (1998-07-15). CyberSociety 2.0: revisiting computer-mediated communication and community. Sage Publications. ISBN 978-0-7619-1461-7. 
  8. ^ Moomail from Rog to Lig, 2001-08-26, quoted in Thomas, Sue (March–April 2003). "Spivak". The Barcelona Review (35). Retrieved 2011-10-27. 
  9. ^ Klein, Eric (1993). "Laws of Oceania". Oceania — The Atlantis Project. 
  10. ^ Williams, John (2004). "Gender-neutral Pronoun FAQ". 
  11. ^ Martin, W. Eric. Meta-Gaming 101. Games. Issue 193 (Vol. 27, No. 7). Pg.7. September 2003.

External links[edit]