I've been reading a lot of academic material over the past year and a half at MSR. And I am starting to find I have an almost allergic reaction to a word - the word "one." Specifically, the word "one" used as "a gender-neutral, third-person singular...pronoun." In an attempt to be both formal and "politically correct" by avoiding "he" and the awkward "he/she" or "s/he," the constant intermingling of "he" and "she" (which I always find distracting, too), the apparently suspect "they" as a singular pronoun and the informal "you," many textbooks heavily use the word "one." To the point where it is starting to interrupt my flow of thought as I notice, "There's 'one!' And there's another 'one!' And another! Three 'ones' in one sentence!"
Two examples shall suffice (all emphases mine). The first I have already quoted here before, from a post a few weeks back:
One does not choose one's role as a party to a conflict. One's role results from how one's own interests are involved in the situation. However, one does make a choice to manage a conflict's process as well as to stand for one's own interests. One's role is determined by one's interests. One's ministry of conflict management is a response to one's Christian vocation.- Hugh F. Halverstadt, Managing Church Conflict (Kindle edition)The second is from my current reading:
What should one do when this happens? First, be aware of its happening, as one undoubtedly will be. Second, one should not be afraid to make a split-second decision as to whether or not to go with it. Sometimes it will not be the best thing to do, since one may very well sense that some dead-end road might lay at the end of an inspirational flight. On the other hand, the advice that comes from the history of those who have preached without notes is that when one is truly inspired, and that inspiration has grown out of one's careful preparation, one must go with the inspiration. Since, presumably, one preaching without notes will have followed this book's advice in thoroughly preparing the sermon, the best advice, then, is to follow the grandeur wherever a sermon's moment leads, in the full understanding that one's outline will bring one back to the trail at the appropriate moment.- Joseph Webb, Preaching Without NotesWhew.
I don't know about you, but when I read those paragraphs, I end up having a hard time concentrating, and a large part of the cause is the relentless, never-varying use of the pronoun "one." It seems like there should be a limit to the number of "ones" allowed in passage, if just for readability. I propose two metrics:
- There is a ratio of "ones" to the rest of the "non-trivial" words in a text (not counting articles and conjunctions). Let's call this the "signal-to-one ratio." So, for example, the first quote above has 64 words, total (even counting "a," "and," and "the"). Of those, ten are the word "one." Almost a sixth, almost 16%, of all the words in the paragraph are "one!" That seems like "too many" to me.
- Another way would be to measure the maximum times the word "one" is used in any sentence. The more times, the more the paragraph's "oneness" ("oneimum?" "oneosity?") In this case, the first paragraph scores a 2 (multiple times), but the second paragraph rates a 3. Again, this seems like "too many" to be readable (at least to me).