From an online story about an after-hours office burglary:
“The…employee was in the office late Thursday evening when they heard sounds coming from the hall.”
“When the employee went to investigate the noise they saw a male suspect running down the hallway.”
Singular subject (“the employee”) combined with plural pronoun (“they”) equals copy editors everywhere engaging in head-banging-against-desk exercises.
I don’t know where this usage of “they” in place of “he” or “she” began, but I’ve witnessed it more in casual conversation than in writing. Apparently, some people feel that saying “they” instead of “he” or “she” (or the slightly more awkward “he or she” in the absence of a known gender) absolves them of the responsibility for choosing the correct pronoun.
Why someone would carry this improper usage into written form is as much of a mystery as where the incorrect usage started in the first place. Any thoughts?