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How they sway us!

They and It have become far too familiar for my taste. They, for example, crop up in a rude, unruly manner, when They are least wanted. Once They have made their appearance, "They say," making pronouncements that the rest of us are expected to believe; "They think," presumably thoughts that are universally applied; and "They do," committing acts for which I, you, and everyone else, are seemingly held accountable.

Who are They, anyway? An anonymous crowd somewhere or other: That They are not here is obvious, for They cannot be we, you, or I. You and I presumably know where we are.

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What disturbs me about them in their influence. When "They say," for instance that "mischief's affot in Washington," might not the rest of us be tempted, bearing the pressure exerted by these mysterious peers, to declare that indeed mischief is affot in Washington, thus weaving a web of murky accusation around innocent Washingtonians? Or suppose you and I read that "They wear only five-inch heels in New York." In this case, at least, we are clued in as to Their native territory, and can judge accordingly whether to extend Their exclusive form of footwear to our own turf.

Insidious and deductive as They are, I find "It" menacing on a more cosmic scale. This mite controls our weather and our time, and seems far more prevalent than the hordes who must constitute "them." Its omnipresence in hardly surprising when one considers the myriad roles it assumes. It can be, for instance, snowing; one o'clock; two o'clock; dark; light. It can be -- or not be. Not content with being, It can also seem anything and everything to me, to you, or even to "them." Fickle creature -- where does It end, anyway?

One thing can be said for It; It does not influence the rest of us quite so directly or so insistently as They do. When It snows, It does not pressure the rest of us to snow as well, and when It is dark, or light, or two o'clock, It politely leaves the rest of us alone. When "it seems," (that slippery phrase) It begins to overstep the bounds of propriety, causing hostility and aggression: if "It seems to me," why should It not seem to you, and vice versa? Demonic little It has probably caused many a war in its time.

What are we to do about Them and It? First, find Them. "Them" are very elusive and rarely found except in print. As for "It," don't try to track it down. It often hides behind a smokescreen of antecedents, to show you that It fulfills a function unduplicated by any other word. But just as you are ready to accept It, throwing up your hands in dismay at yourself for every thinking ill of It, It will start to rain, or It will be time to feed the chickens, or It will seem frustrating, and there you will be, confronting once again Its maddening caper through the language. The best to be done is to keep strictly aloof from Them, and not allow Them to tell us how to think or what to do; and try to employ It as a useful handmaiden of the antecedent instead of giving It autonomy and allowing It to control weather and time. It can be circumvented: Snow can fall without It, and the time can be four o'clock with no dependence whatsoever on It.

Enough misty theorizing about the state of the language. It is dinner-time. It is a damp-smelling night, and They say It may pour tomorrow, and that you and I should wear our slickers and galoshes. It's time for me to close the windows, light the fire, and bring in the cat. There is little time for meditation, so long as there is work to be done.

Now where, I wonder, is There?


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