Gender neutral pronouns in the English language date back to the 1850s, with many variations, according to the American Heritage Book of English Usage.




Amiko-Gabriel Stocking, a 23-year-old student at Southern Oregon University, prefers to use the pronouns "ze," "zim" and "zir," and occasionally the reflexive zeself, zimself and "zirself," although they are awkward to use, Stocking said.




Other pronouns proposed include "ve," "vis" and "ver" or "na," "nan" and "naself."




Several universities have published style guides for using alternative pronouns, and many professors accept the pronouns in their students' academic writing.




Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for example, accepts both "ze" and "e," citing the examples "Ze went to hir bedroom," and "E went to eir bedroom."




Alma Rose Alvarez, an associate professor of English at Southern Oregon University started accepting alternative pronouns last year after attending a workshop on transgender and intersex students at universities. The use of gender-neutral pronouns can be liberating for some students who don't identify with typical gender roles, she said. Other students may find it a convenient replacement for the often awkward "he or she."




Although the practice is not widespread, it hasn't met resistance either, according to Alvarez.




"I don't see a lot of my colleagues using them, but I think it depends on what your niche or your specialty is," Alvarez said. "I don't see them saying, 'No, you can't use it' either."




Uses of alternative pronouns are far from static. The American Heritage Book of Usage lists more than twenty different versions used since 1850, and in the spring of 2004, researchers at Johns Hopkins University identified "yo" as one of the latest new pronouns. College students at two different Baltimore universities used the word "yo" to refer to both men and women, as in "Yo was tuckin' in his shirt," while pointing to a specific student outside.