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Dictionaries list all the meanings used by people, even when they are hopelessly confused. Does it not make more sense to use words to clarify, rather than confuse?

If you're using words in a different meaning from the one used by the people who speak the language, you're going to confuse them. At first. After that they'll start walking away from you rather briskly, and then you'll be all alone, speaking your own very precise English to yourself. And that'll be lots o' fun.
Sentence in question: "You can all but hear the engineer knocking their coffee cup over fumbling for the fader." Referring ... in question is unseen and gender unknown. Someone has insisted that it's supposed to be "his" not "their". Thoughts? Citations?

It's too ambiguous and terribly awkward to use "their" in this sentence, IMHO. You could change it to "a coffee cup" and avoid the problem. Otherwise, use "his" or use "her" or, if you want to be as obnoxious as I sometimes am when I run into situations like this, use "its" and say to hell with bending over for a linguistic buggering.

Franke: EFL teacher & medical editor
Native speaker of American English; posting from Taiwan. Unmunged email: /at/easypeasy.com
"Impatience is the mother of misery."
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On 14 Sep 2006, Tony Cooper wrote

Why not just "knocking a coffee cup over"? It doesn't make any difference if the coffee cup is the one that the engineer uses.

For that example, it's fine; not a universal solution, though.

Yep. It just matter if it's a detective story.

Franke: EFL teacher & medical editor
Native speaker of American English; posting from Taiwan. Unmunged email: /at/easypeasy.com
"Impatience is the mother of misery."
Dictionaries list all the meanings used by people, even when they are hopelessly confused. Does it not make more sense to use words to clarify, rather than confuse?

Dictionaries do not list hopelessly confused or erroneous meanings without marking them as such.
The language changed and you haven't caught up. It's like you've been in the desert for 50 years and now want to insist that evrything is still the way it was, mainly because you wish it were.

Stephen
Lennox Head, Australia
Dictionaries list all the meanings used by people, even ... more sense to use words to clarify, rather than confuse?

If you're using words in a different meaning from the one used by the people who speak the language, you're ... and then you'll be all alone, speaking your own very precise English to yourself. And that'll be lots o' fun.

Well I know what 'sex' means, and I know what 'gender' means, and I know that they don't mean the same thing, and therefore should not be used to refer to the same thing, as that causes confusion. People are so prudish, they don't want to use the word 'sex' except to refer to "sexual relations", which should be called "sexual relations" or "sexual intercourse" or 'coitus, not 'sex'. 'Sex' is the property of being male or female.
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Dictionaries list all the meanings used by people, even when ... more sense to use words to clarify, rather than confuse?

Dictionaries do not list hopelessly confused or erroneous meanings without marking them as such. The language changed and you haven't ... years and now want to insist that evrything is still the way it was, mainly because you wish it were.

No, I just reject the feminist ideology, because it rests on factual errors and deliberate misinterpretations of history.
UC filted:
Male/Female = 'sex'. Applies to biology.

And pipe fittings..
Masculine/Feminine = 'gender'. Applies to language

..r

"Screwing Type Gloomy - Giant Swing" Gloomy makes your world turn around! Watch out for this charming toy teddy-bear that amazes you with his agile walking skills through a special wind-up mechanism. Enjoy the joyful company of this active playing wonder right away!
Sentence in question: "You can all but hear the engineer ... has insisted that it's supposed to be "his" not "their".

"his", "her" and "their" are all correct, but "his" or "her" is preferable in your example because it's an image, and whoever imagined it knows what the sex of the engineer was.

But that's the problem. Whoever imagined it has an image, and the image is of a male. It is considered a problem because it suggests only a male could be an engineer. While traditionalist grammarians will say that "he" should be used for gender unknown, the problem is this ambiguity between cases where that is clearly so, and cases where it might mean the assumption is the person is male. Look for when the gender is unknown, but it's a role usually performed by a female (e.g. nurse). You'll find in old usages, it's "she" here, not gender-unknown "he".
For this reason, it does look old-fashioned to use "he" as the gender unknown pronoun.
Sometimes you see a deliberate use of "she" for "gender unknown, but usually male", done in order to challenge assumptions. That looks forced, and I wouldn't recommend it either.
Google "singular they". Here's one article: they

A good summary. I think there may have been some British government directive that singular "they" is permitted, because I've been noticing it recently on official things.The issue here is that, yes, there are many who will say that "they" etc for a single person, gender unknown is bad grammar - it's only gradually moving into acceptance in formal written English. Because of this, it's something that should be avoided if possible. It can often be avoided by rephrasing the sentence to avoid using a pronoun, but sometimes that becomes awkward. It can sometimes be avoided by using "he or she", but that becomes very awkward if there is repeat use of the pronoun.

My own feeling is that slipping into occasional use of singular-they, but only when the phrase can't be changed to avoid a pronoun, is now the best option. As the wiki article suggests, this usage has a long history, it's something that seems to come naturally, and always has, so I think it's silly to condemn it as "bad grammar".

Matthew Huntbach
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Well I know what 'sex' means, and I know what 'gender' means,

You mean you know what you WANT them to mean. Stamping your foot won't make them mean what you want.
You don't get to say. Sorry.
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