As any good Scrabble player knows, some of the best words are only two, three or four letters long. They can, however, in both Scrabble and in life itself, also be amongst the most divisive.
Divisive words in scrabble include za, which is (according to the official Scrabble Players Dictionary) an abbreviation of the word pizza. While I have yet to hear anyone in my social circle suggesting we pop out and grab some 'za for kai tonight, it is an officially playable word in Scrabble tournaments. It's not the only slang word to be acceptable in those tournaments either - games can be won or lost by the careful placement of words such as bro, homey and cuz.
In life itself, however, it isn't abbreviations or slang that seem to be causing some people problems at the moment, but much more basic words. Specifically, pronouns.
Yes, that group of words we learned back in primary school, probably soon after we learned about nouns and verbs. We would have been only 5 or 6 when we first learned the different forms of pronouns, starting with the most basic of all - personal pronouns. We learned to use and spell the words I, you, she, he, it, we, you, and they at around the same stage in our school life as we learned the infinite importance of being chosen class leader of the day, or having the right cartoon character on our lunchbox. (At my school it was Snoopy, if you were unlucky enough to have one with Strawberry Shortcake on it you were relegated to the uncool corner of the lunch table.)
So why is it so many adults today seem to need a refresher course on what were, to our 5 and 6-year-old selves, such basic facts?
Fact: we use pronouns to refer to people, and it is important to use them correctly when we do so.
Our 5 and 6-year-old selves understood the use of those words, and it is really important we make sure we still fully understand their use, and importance, today in our adult lives.
That is why my email signature, and that of many of my colleagues at NZME, lists not only our job title and our contact details, but also our pronouns. Including our pronouns is a simple yet effective way to be inclusive. When cisgender (someone whose gender identity matches the sex they were assigned at birth) people include their pronouns in their emails, it normalises the concept, providing a level of protection for trans and gender-diverse people choosing to do the same.
Strangely, though, these simple words, just two, three or four letters in length, seem to be just too difficult for some people to understand. One friend, on noticing my Facebook profile now included my pronouns, asked me why.
They thought it was obvious what I was, they said, so "why make a thing of it"?
Because "making a thing of it" is much easier for a cisgender woman like myself to do than it might be for someone else. Because if I "make a thing of it" hopefully, in future, it won't be "a thing" for others, but will simply be what it is meant to be - a statement of who they are.
Doing it doesn't hurt anyone and takes me just a few seconds of typing to add them to my email signature or social media profile. It doesn't cost me much in time, but it very likely saves a lot of time for my gender-diverse or trans colleagues and friends. Because if we are all doing it, they are less likely to have to spend their time and energy explaining why they are.
Sharing my pronouns also signals I am an LGBTQIA+ ally, and just as our 5 and 6-year-old selves knew the importance of being a good friend, so we as adults should remember that too. Sharing pronouns is an act of friendship akin to sitting next to the child with the Strawberry Shortcake lunchbox even when you had a Snoopy one, and our LGBTQIA+ friends need us to sit with them, figuratively speaking, until everyone can grasp the basic concept of using the correct pronouns as an act of basic respect.
So please, if you haven't done so before, consider sharing your pronouns on your social media, email signatures and even business cards in the future. It won't take you long, or cost you much, but it will help make the world an easier place for many. Let's stop making the use of basic words such as she, he and they a battle, and leave the fighting for the Scrabble games and words like za or zorilla (yes, that is also an acceptable Scrabble word).