User.pronoun() is a Time Saver

Usability is all about the little things. Small changes in how your copy reads can have big effects in how your users react to things.

This is one reason why designers love to use gender-specific language in copy. For example: "Hey Ben, [first name] just sent you a gift! You should thank [him/her]". As any dev knows, user.first_name is easy to put into that statement. Him/Her, on the other hand, just annoys me. Each time i need to implement it, i have write another if statement to display those words. Until today.

After being consistently annoyed with what felt like repeated code, i have come up with a frustratingly simple solution. Frustrating insofar as i don't know why it took me so long to write this function in the first place. But for those of you who share in my struggle, i present the light at the end of the tunnel:

def pronoun( type=:subject )
	pronoun = ''

	case type.to_sym
	when :subject
		pronoun = 'they'
		if sex == 'male'   then  pronoun = 'he'   end
		if sex == 'female' then  pronoun = 'she'  end
	when :object
		pronoun = 'them'
		if sex == 'male'   then  pronoun = 'him'  end
		if sex == 'female' then  pronoun = 'her'  end
	when :possessive
		pronoun = 'their'
		if sex == 'male'   then  pronoun = 'his'   end
		if sex == 'female' then  pronoun = 'hers'  end
	when :reflexive
		pronoun = 'themselves'
		if sex == 'male'   then  pronoun = 'himself'  end
		if sex == 'female' then  pronoun = 'herself'  end


Some will notice my "default" cases are plural. This is not by accident. The labels being used in gender identity have changed a lot in recent years. This is great for expression and identity, but tricky for code. I've had many conversations about this since i work at a dating site.

What i continue to hear from sources far more knowledgable than i is that addressing non-binary genders in the plural is emerging as the correct standard. Easy enough! By defaulting to the plural and diverting only on the specific cases of male and female, we make no assumptions about the selected gender options moving forward.

So drop this into your server and/or client user models (i have it in both at MeetMindful). Once you have a simple way to refer to users in a gender-appropriate way, you are one step closer to implementing proper designs without feeling like your code quality is being compromised.

tl;dr: Gender appropriate pronouns are a great way to personalize your copy. user.pronoun() is simple function that makes it easy to implement.

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Written by Ben
Ben is the co-founder of Skyward. He has spent the last 10 years building products and working with startups.