This post at the Log makes me very happy (the narrator is Bean):
My eight-year-old daughter in conversation with me last night:
Scene: I am giving her a sock, which she had brought home, only to find she already had both of her socks. So it logically must belong to some other girl (it’s obviously a girl’s sock).
Me: So, bring this lost sock back to school, and put it in the lost and found. Do you remember who was wearing it? Well, anyway if the other girl is looking for it she can find it. I’m assuming it was a girl so I’m going with “she”.
Daughter [scornfully]: You mean “they”.
I think this clearly illustrates the way the kids use “they”. We know it’s a girl, but since we’re not sure which girl, it becomes “they”. And it was such a firm rule in her mind she felt the need to sneer at me. 🙂
The girls (and, I think, us parents) also use this consistently in their all-girls’ hockey league, and in Brownies – both all-female pursuits. For example, I heard something along the lines of: Q. “Is the other goalie any good?” A. “I don’t know, I’ve never seen them play before.” Whereas if we were talking about our goalie, whose name and face we know, it would have been along the lines of “I don’t know, she hasn’t played much lately.”
Peevers, you might as well give up the hopeless struggle; singular they is not only of ancient and unimpeachable lineage, it is developing its own fine points of grammatical usage that are being enforced not by the futile injunctions of schoolteachers but by the young wielders of the language. They know what they mean when they say “they”!