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I have recently noticed that in "Ten Duel Commandments" from Hamilton the pronoun used to describe the opponent is "they" like in

The challenge: demand satisfaction,

If they apologize, no need for further action.

It is odd to me because in the times where the action is placed it would be practically impossible for a woman to take part in a duel. Hence the question: what might have been the motivation to use this pronoun instead of "he"?

(I am nearly sure that it is not the matter of its sound in the song, as in "The World Was Wide Enough", which has the same music line, "he" is used instead.)

  • They is a plural pronoun, so they seem to refer to more than one person? – Karlo Mar 8 at 18:55
  • I think that in this context it does not, as the duel is performed between two people so there is only one opponent. – TwoStepsOutside Mar 10 at 7:20
  • Unless your suggestion is that it is to make the commandments more general (i.e. show that it was not specific to given situation but was a real set of rules). – TwoStepsOutside Mar 10 at 7:22
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Singular they is often used where the expected pronoun might be "he" or "she". From the wiki article

Informal spoken English exhibits nearly universal use of the singular they. An examination by Jürgen Gerner of the British National Corpus published in 1998 found that British speakers regardless of social status, age, sex, or region used the singular they overwhelmingly more often than the gender-neutral he or other options

So, it could be that, or perhaps more 21stC usage where the sense is that the person might not identify as he or she.

Or again, as with many song lyrics, sometimes a lyric is slightly provocative or unusual to make you think about the words. The absence of a comment from the writer of the lyric, we all have to speculate - which again makes use think about the words.

A variety of possible reasons above, in order of most likelihood.

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