Charlotte Alter, Suyin Haynes, and Justin Worland, writing for Time:
Greta Thunberg sits in silence in the cabin of the boat that will
take her across the Atlantic Ocean. Inside, there’s a cow skull
hanging on the wall, a faded globe, a child’s yellow raincoat.
Outside, it’s a tempest: rain pelts the boat, ice coats the decks,
and the sea batters the vessel that will take this slight girl,
her father and a few companions from Virginia to Portugal. For a
moment, it’s as if Thunberg were the eye of a hurricane, a pool of
resolve at the center of swirling chaos. In here, she speaks
quietly. Out there, the entire natural world seems to amplify her
small voice, screaming along with her.
“We can’t just continue living as if there was no tomorrow,
because there is a tomorrow,” she says, tugging on the sleeve of
her blue sweatshirt. “That is all we are saying.”
Thunberg really riles up conservatives. “Why are we listening to a child?”, they ask, when they’re not frothing at their mouths over her celebrity and prominence. “Why are we doing nothing while global calamity grows ever more imminent?” is the response. They really seem to go after her in a viciously personal way — proof to me that she’s somehow really touched a nerve.
Superman is an inherently goofy premise even among the goofy premises of nearly all comic book superheroes. Most superheroes have limited powers and some sort of balanced weaknesses. Superman has nearly unlimited powers and just one very specific, very narrow weakness. And that weakness makes no sense whatsoever — how in the world would chunks of the planet Krypton make their way anywhere outside the Krypton solar system? And don’t get me started on the way no one notices Clark Kent looks like Superman because he’s wearing glasses. I mean come on.
But when I was a kid the thing I found most bothersome about the whole premise was the idea that if a scientist determined and had evidence to prove a severe global calamity was imminent, the public would simply ignore the warning. Here on real Earth, scientists are the ones who warn us of incoming hurricanes and who told us that vaccines could keep us from contracting terrible diseases, and we listened to them.
But here we are with climate change. The Krypton parable no longer seems funny. And with climate change it’s not just one scientist — it’s as close to expert consensus as science ever gets. I’m sure it never even occurred to Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster to have not just Jor-El but 99 percent of Krypton’s scientists arguing that the planet was doomed — and still having the leaders of the world respond with inaction. That Thunberg has been able to nudge the world in the direction of action — to move the needle even a little — is remarkable.
Although our lookups are often driven by events in the news,
the dictionary is also a primary resource for information
about language itself, and the shifting use of they has
been the subject of increasing study and commentary in recent
years. Lookups for they increased by 313% in 2019 over the
English famously lacks a gender-neutral singular pronoun to
correspond neatly with singular pronouns like everyone or
someone, and as a consequence they has been used for this
purpose for over 600 years.
More recently, though, they has also been used to refer to one
person whose gender identity is nonbinary, a sense that is
increasingly common in published, edited text, as well as social
media and in daily personal interactions between English speakers.
There’s no doubt that its use is established in the English
language, which is why it was added to the Merriam-Webster.com
dictionary this past September.
I’ve long been a staunch advocate of singular they, which I don’t find contrary to my generally conservative linguistic stance. As Merriam-Webster points out, singular they in English has a 600-year history. It’s the “they is always plural” pedants who are the upstarts, just like the Victorian know-nothings who wrongly insist one should never split an infinitive. Nonbinary they is a natural extension of that history.