@jjulian: ...are there too many commas in that sentence?
The thing about commas is that they are very subjective. As Ms Truss said, you can always argue that putting one in improves the clarity ... and you can always argue that taking it out improves the clarity LOL.
I know that the chapter on commas is going to be one of the harder chapters -- re your question (assuming you were serious), I personally would have removed one, so where you said:
Thank you for your kind offer, but, unfortunately, I won't be attending.
I would have written:
Thank you for your kind offer but, unfortunately, I won't be attending.
But a lot depends on how you would pause when saying it ... and how you want the reader to "hear" it in his or her head when he or she reads it (LOL).
@betajet: Ashley Wilkes was the one I was thinking of and I went to Wikipedia to verify Leslie Howard's name. "Epic" was the first key.
One of my father's Marine Corps buddies was Les (Leslie) Perry, who named his oldest daughter Lesley Ann Perry. At least, I'm pretty sure of the two spellings. I think Lesley was at one time the preferred spelling of the feminine, as in Lesley Ann Warren, but then, we also have Fr. Lesley J. McNair, Leslie Caron, Leslie Uggams, and Leslie Townes Hope (better known as Bob Hope).
English does have a gender-neutral personal pronoun, similar to Latin: it. Unfortunately it's usually considered a bit impolite to refer to someone as "it" in English. Hmmm, come to think of it, "Madame Chairthing" does have a certain ring to it; one couldn't mistakenly use "charwoman" and instead of "chairwoman" if we used "chairthing." ;- ) Does Max want to add that to his book?
That said, I need to make a comment about the gender French nouns: I'm not a native speaker (not much of a French speaker at all; I speak bad enough to make a Parisian cry out in pain!), but I do know that in French a victim is always feminine -- une victime, regardless of the actual gender of the person who is the victim. Systranet.com translates "He is a victim" as "Il est une victime" where "une" is the feminine of "un" (the French word for English's "a" or "an"). Running "Il est une victime" back through from French to English produces "It is a victim." "Il" in French can be translated as both "He" (masculine) and "It" (neuter) in English; "Elle" is the feminine "She." Latin was much easier for me to comprehend in high school than French because it had three genders, like English, rather than the two genders of French. The trouble came in making sure that nouns, pronouns, and adjectives agreed in gender, case, and number. Too many endings to remember!
I think it was Mark Twain who said he'd met a student who would rather decline three beers and than one German noun.
This is true in English too. You can say, in a literal translation, "Here one speaks English." You can say, "English is spoken here." In Italian, "Si parla Italiano." So I don't think this gender-neutral "one" is unique to Spanish.
In German, the gender-neutral "one" is "man." Which does make me chuckle, in this context.
@Bert: That "man" in the word hardly implies male. Not in the word "woman," nor in any of the other overused examples.
You are joking, right? You mean that when you see "man" and "woman" ... it doesn't strike you that "woman" is derived from "man" ... sort of like saying "sort of man but a bit different."
I think the word man in anything -- like mankind or penmanship -- definately implies male. I understand that historically these words have been used to encompass everyone, but .... yes ... they DO imply male (sorry :-)