On Thu, Jul 02, 2020 at 12:47:07PM -0400, Piper Thunstrom wrote:
Over the last handful of decades, singular "they" has been explicitly taught as inappropriate. My own college writing classes (only 10 years ago now) included this specific piece of advice.
In terms of modern English vernacular, singular "they" has been continuously and rigorously treated as inappropriate.
You are oversimplifying the situation.
It is mostly American grammarians who rail against it, so please don't impose American cultural experiences and values on the rest of the English-speaking world.
In terms of modern English *vernacular* (i.e. common speech), singular- they has never really gone out of fashion despite the protests of some grammarians, not even in the USA. For instance Green (1977) reported that singular-they was the "normal" third-person singular generic pronoun among junior college students, and Meyers (1990) found that 52% of college students used it. (Interestingly, she found that male students used singular-they slightly more often than female students.)
The 1996 edition of "The New Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage" dismissed objections to singular-they, and observed that it is "passing unnoticed" by standard (British) English speakers and copy editors. Likewise the 1998 edition of "The New Oxford Dictionary of English" used the form in their definitions.
Even in the USA, the record has been mixed. For example, President George Bush's 1991 State of the Union Address used it:
"If anyone tells you that America's best days are behind her, then they're looking the wrong way."
and as far as I can tell, it passed without comment at the time.
Garner's Modern American Usage (2003) recommended cautious use of singular-they; the 1993 edition of The Chicago Manual of Style explicitly recommended singular-they, (alas, the following edition backpedalled somewhat, suggesting that it was fine in casual writing but not formal writing).
Even Webster's Dictionary Of Common English (1989) described it as "in common standard use".
While the popularity of singular-they has certainly waxed and waned over the centuries, it was in common use at least back in the 1970s and 1980s, e.g. see the citations here: