The official dictionary of the Swedish language is getting a refresh, editors of the Swedish Academy have announced. Among the additions is a gender-neutral pronoun. Instead of just he (han) and she (hon), there will now be hen as well. Not a brand new concept, hen has gained acceptance and is in relatively wide usage today. But inclusion in the dictionary makes it official.
The pronoun is used to refer to a person without revealing their gender, either because it is unknown, because the person is transgender, or the speaker or writer deems the gender to be superfluous information. In a progressive nation such as Sweden, gender equality is a proud tradition. In fact, Sweden ranks 4th in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report.
To quote the Swedish government website: “Gender equality implies not only equal distribution between men and women in all domains of society. It is also about the qualitative aspects, ensuring that the knowledge and experience of both men and women are used to promote progress in all aspects of society.”
Gender-neutral pronouns have never gained traction in English, despite several attempts since 1850. Proposed then were: thon, ip, hi, le and hiser. Instead of coming to grips with the problem, we resort to the stilted he/she, he and she, his/her or use of the gender neutral plurals which can result in faulty construction.
I think I like thon best.