"It" Is Dehumanizing

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
Jump to navigation Jump to search

John: Don't kill him!
Sarah: It, John. Not 'him', 'it'.

Terminator 2, Judgment Day

In the English language, pronouns are divided into 'he' or 'she' depending on the gender of the person you're talking about. Referring to someone as 'it' is incredibly rude, as it's almost entirely used for inanimate objects or wild animals. Calling someone 'it' is therefore tantamount to denying he or she is a real person.

This trope is when a character is referred to as 'it' in fiction. Perhaps the person who is referring to the character is a fantastic racist. Otherwise it may refer to an Eldritch Abomination, which indicates that the being is too inhuman to empathize with, despite its intelligence. The worst victims of this trope are probably Artificial Humans.

Needless to say, this trope gets to be troublesome when referring to a person who fits neither he/his nor she/her. In real life, multiple genderless person-pronouns have been invented—such as hir, zie, or ou—to avoid it, but none of them have made it into mainstream use. In English, using 'they' to refer to a single individual is becoming more popular in common use, though many a Grammar Nazi will tell you off for doing so.

Compare What Measure Is a Non-Human? and Pronoun Trouble.

Examples of "It" Is Dehumanizing include:

Anime and Manga

  • In Kaze no Stigma, there's a girl who was created as a Replacement Goldfish for a woman who was supposed to be sacrificed to an evil spirit (so basically, she's supposed to be sacrificed in her stead). She's generally mistreated and dehumanized, including referring to her as 'it'.
  • In the English dub of Soul Eater, Medusa refers to Crona as either "it" or "my child", while everyone else either uses "he" for convenience (since English lacks a gender-neutral third person pronoun) or just refers to Crona by name, and in the original Japanese Crona was just referred to with an ambiguously gendered pronoun. Also counts as a Woolseyism since Medusa's use of "it" ties into how she treats Crona.
  • In Shakugan no Shana, several characters refer to Torches and Mistes (sentient constructs used to replace Ret Goned people, they have all their memories and personality) as "it".
  • Cheza from Wolfs Rain is a strange case, as she refers to herself as an "it", due to being an Artificial Human. Everyone else uses female pronouns for her.

Comic Books

  • New 52: Superman gets captured by the government and subjected to torture and experimentation. The scientists and Lex Luthor refer to him as "it".
    • Later, Helspont tries to break Superman's spirit by giving him a nightmare where the government is hunting him down. The soldiers yell stuff like, "There it is! Shoot it!"
  • In Marvel Comics, robots and androids often refer to themselves as "this unit". If they are intelligent and become independent of their original programming, they may switch to "I".


  • The Silence of the Lambs: "It puts the lotion on its skin, or else it gets the hose again!"
  • Terminator: "That terminator is out there. It can't be bargained with. It can't be reasoned with. It doesn't feel pity or remorse or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead."
    • Terminator 2: Judgment Day: "It, John. Not him, it."
  • Blade Runner. "I don't get it, Tyrell. How can it not know what it is?"
  • In X2, Stryker yells "Shoot it!" in reference to Wolverine (sort of).
  • In the 2007 version of I Am Legend, Anna watches Neville experiment on a captured zombie, and asks whether what he's doing will "cure her." Neville responds "Actually, it will probably kill it," with the second "it" slightly emphasized.


  • A Child Called It is this trope applied to an autobiographic story of a mother abusing her son.
  • IT falls in to the "too inhuman" variety in A Wrinkle in Time. (It's a giant evil brain.)
  • Stephen King wrote IT, a firm example of the too inhuman variant.
  • In Lucky Starr and the Rings of Saturn, the eugenically-enhanced Sten Devoure refers to Lucky's rather short and ugly sidekick Bigman as "that thing" and "it." The insult becomes dangerous when he tells a group of "Three Laws"-Compliant robots (who are unfamiliar with human variation outside the limited norms of Devoure's world) that Bigman is not human, and orders them to "break it."
  • In the Young Wizards series some species (most notably humans) refer to the Lone Power (a.k.a. Satan) as "It".
  • Averted in Bruce Coville's Rod Albright Alien Adventures stories, which feature a (good) alien who is neither male nor female. This alien tells Rod that "it" is the best English pronoun to use. Rod comments that that sort of sounds insulting, but the alien responds that it considers "he" or "she" insulting too.
  • Played with and discussed in Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga, where "it" is considered the polite way to address Betan hermaphrodites. Bel Thorne, the hermaphrodite most central to the series, has an entire canned rant about how "it" is not considered to be dehumanizing... but also quite enjoys using its "it" status to make less tolerant acquaintances uncomfortable.
  • In Barry Longyear's novella Enemy Mine, the Drac are both male and female at the same time. The hero continually refers to his Drac antagonist-turned-friend as "it", rather than as he or she.
  • Averted in A.C. Crispin's StarBridge series, which includes an intelligent telepathic alien fungus; the characters adopt a non-gendered pronoun from another alien language specifically to avoid this trope.
  • When diagnosed sociopath John Cleaver of I Am Not a Serial Killer begins to do this, it's a sign that he's getting excited and losing control. He even has a My God, What Have I Done? moment when he refers to his crush as 'it'.
  • Used in the second sense of the trope for The Exalted in the Night Lords series of Warhammer 40,000. Having been possessed for a few thousand years, the former Space Marine has lost most of its humanity to the daemon of Tzeentch inside of it.[1]
  • In The Angel Experiment, Angel is very upset when the scientists experimenting on her continue to refer to her as "it".
  • Inverted in Foundation and Earth, where the genetically engineered hermaphroditic Solarians insist on being called "it" - since, after all, they are not half humans like us, but complete, perfect beings.
  • "It" is used by Death Eaters in Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows to refer to muggle-borns who have had their wands taken away for having "stolen magic." When Harry, Ron and Hermione visit Diagon Alley in disguise, Ron is forced to stun one. The Death Eater Travers asks Hermione (disguised as the Death Eater Bellatrix Lestrange) "How did it offend you?" and Hermione, playing her character, replies "It does not matter. It will not do so again."
  • The Laurie J. Marks' Children of Triad novels are an interesting case; in them, certain members of the Walker community refer to the Aeyries as "it", due to their hermaphroditism. Most notable of these is the Walker Teksan, the Big Bad of the first book. However, it is mentioned somewhere in the books that the Aeyries wouldn't mind it if the Walkers weren't deliberately using the pronoun because they believe it is insulting. The H'ldat (the Aeyries' language) pronoun, 'id/idre', simply refers to something without gender - in essence, it means the exact same thing as the word "it"; the usage itself is what makes the word "it" dehumanizing.
  • Averted by the Mrdini in the Talents series. They are a genderless species, and as such insist on being referred to as "it" in human language.
  • In Neverwhere, the angel Islington, being naturally sexless, is referred to consistently as "it", though some characters make an effort at "he". This serves to Foreshadow certain inhuman aspects of its morality.
  • Averted with Heidi. The title of the second book, literally translated, means "Heidi can put to use what it has learned". This may seem odd to you, but in some German dialects, "it" is generally used for girls. Not the dehumanizing "it" implying "thing", but rather as in "cute little thing".

Live Action TV

  • Star Trek: The Next Generation did this in "The Measure Of A Man", an episode discussing Data's legal status; Commander Maddox constantly refers to Data as a possession of Starfleet and therefore an "it", until he slips into "he" after a court hearing formally rules that Data has free will and the right to choose.
    • When Dr. Pulaski first saw Data at the helm, she balked at the captain: "You're letting it pilot the ship?" upon which Picard laid the smackdown on her in magnificent form. Given the fact that Data was so popular with the fans, having a one-off character treat him like a machine quickly became shorthand for telling the audience that a character was an asshole, this scene probably was enough to doom Pulaski's character terminally.
    • The series did this earlier in the season 1 episode "Datalore", where Captain Picard at first felt inclined to refer to Data as "he", and to Data's newly-discovered twin brother Lore as "it". Data called him out on this, and felt uncomfortable at the idea of them being referred to differently when they were both androids. Picard understood and apologized.
    • Also in an episode of The Next Generation, Riker rejects the pronoun "it" for referring to a member of the (genderless) J'naii species for this very reason.
  • In "Kellerman, P.I.", a Ripped from the Headlines Homicide: Life on the Street, Det. Falsone knows that the teenage mother of a murdered baby is guilty because she refers to the child as "it" while the father calls the baby "she".
  • In the episode of Red Dwarf where Kryten was first introduced, Rimmer refers to Kryten as "it". Looks like painting a portrait of Rimmer on the toilet, pouring soup on his bed, calling him "smeg for brains" and flipping him off taught him a lesson.
  • In Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles Sarah nearly always refers to Cameron as It, or Tin Man. Derek's the same.
  • In Fringe, when Peter gets thrown back into the timeline, Walter keeps referring to him as "it" and "the subject".

Tabletop Games

  • In OGRE by Steve Jackson Games one of the bits of flavour text in the manual mentions that the eponymous giant AI tanks are never referred to by the traditional "she". Friendly OGREs are "he" and enemy OGREs are "it".
  • The introduction of Malakim angels in Steve Jackson Games In Nomine has an angel use this trope when referring to a demon.

Video Games

  • Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days has Saix refer to Xion as "it". The manga had DiZ refering to Roxas in the same manner.
  • In Prototype, some high-ranking members of Blackwatch are very insistent about referring to ZEUS, otherwise known as Alex Mercer, as "it" instead of "he". Which turns out to be fitting, since the "Alex" you control is a sentient version of the Blacklight virus that has assumed Alex's form.
  • Inverted by Shale in Dragon Age: Origins, who is a golem and thus treated as furniture by those who don't know better, but is actually a fully sentient individual. Shale refers to everyone else as "it" on purpose, mostly for the ironic reversal and to indicate a complete lack of respect. Including the Player Character. The player character will get upgraded to "you" if you reach friendship level with Shale.
  • Possibly averted by Pokémon. Most people refer to the Mons as "it", even though they had genders since Pokémon Gold and Silver, and gender differences as of Pokémon Diamond and Pearl.
  • Isaea Roenall in Baldur's Gate 2 calls the main character an 'it' if you interject during one of his tirades in Nalia's sidequest, to underline his elitist attitude.
  • In Batman: Arkham Asylum, if enough armed henchmen are knocked out, the remaining thugs will call Batman "It".
  • Happens in a way in Persona 3 where Aigis corrects Yukari referring to her as a girl because, well, she's a robot. However this is used to show how unlike a human she is. At first, at least. Later on, she starts to refer to herself as a "she".
  • In Mass Effect 2, Joker consistently refers to EDI as "It" seeing as not only is he wary of an illegal AI but he also doesn't like anyone/anything interfering with his piloting. After the Collector attack where Joker risks his life to give EDI full control of the ship leading her to save the day, he starts referring to her as "she".
    • In Mass Effect 3, in video logs, the Illusive Man gets to Kick the Dog by always referring to EDI as "it", even correcting technicians who call her "she".

Web Comics

  • Gets referenced in Schlock Mercenary, after Ennesby (a viral vannilla-helix AI) gets the Tough's ship blown up during the Battle for the Core. Tagon is understandably annoyed, and starts referring to Ennesby by 'it' for a while, most noticeably in this strip:

Ennesby: Petey, help! He's demoted me to an 'it'!

  • A gate-guard in The Prime of Ambition referred to Thanatos this way (the next page shows that he knows what this meant).
  • In DMFA, Dan is subjected to this.
  • An interesting variation is in Digger, where Ed refers to himself as it because he was cast out of the tribe and his ""name was eaten". The main character calls him 'he' because she can't not think of him as a person.
  • In Freefall, the Mayor calls Florence 'it'.

Web Original

  • Yu-Gi-Oh the Abridged Series makes a joke about objectification this way. The boys ignore what Mai Valentine actually has to say even going as far as referring to her as "it".
  • The bug Ktk in Christopher Wright's Pay Me, Bug! insists on being called "it", because it's just the logical thing to call a hermaphrodite. Characters who don't know Ktk have a little trouble remembering to call it "it".

Western Animation

Kid Flash: He can talk?!
Superboy: (annoyed) Yes, "he" can!
Kid Flash: ...It's not like I said "it."

    • Later, in the same episode:

Dr. Desmond: And get the weapon back in its pod!
Kid Flash: Hey, how come he gets to call Supey an "it?"

Batman: Is that what I think it is?
Kid Flash (out of the corner of his mouth): He doesn't like being called an "it."[2]

    • Supervillain and world-class sociopath Harm narrates his battles, referring to his opponents as "it" all the while. The only person he breaks this habit with (other than himself) is his sister Greta, whom he murdered.

Real Life

  • Some people dislike the practice of referring to pets as "it." That leads to some Pronoun Trouble (see below).
  • In Real Life most of English's Pronoun Trouble comes from this trope. It is the only gender-neutral singular pronoun, but it is offensive to use when referring to other people.
    • To avoid this, it is becoming increasingly common to use "they" (normally a third-person plural pronoun with no gender affiliation) when referring to an individual whose gender is uncertain for whatever reason. English language purists tend not to like this, but it is functional and other pronouns such as "you", originally the plural of "thou" (and after that, the more formal second person pronoun when used singularly) , have undergone similar transformations.
  • While you'd be hard pressed to find anyone who likes being referred to as "it", this is a particular Berserk Button for transsexual and intersexed people, or it triggers a Heroic BSOD, since this tactic is often used by people either advocating for or about to commit horrific violence against those people. People who identify as women prefer to be called "she" and people who identify as men prefer to be called "he", no matter what they were born as, and those who identify as neither will often coin new pronouns. The rule of thumb is that when in doubt, ask someone what they prefer to be called.
  • In an aversion, it is generally considered acceptable to refer to an unborn baby as "it" (as in "when is it due?"), probably due to the fact that not everyone knows the gender of the child before it is born. Even infants outside of the womb sometimes receive this treatment.
  • Inverted with Charles Lindbergh Jr., the 'Lindbergh Baby'. He was affectionately referred to as 'Little It' by his parents.
  • A frightening example is Dave Pelzer's mother. She inflicted terrible abuse on him, and referred to him as 'it'. His biography about surviving his childhood is called A Child Called It.
  • Averted in casual Finnish speech; the pronoun se ("it", as opposed to hän, "he/she") is commonly used to refer to people, with absolutely no ill intentions.
  • It became a minor scandal when John McCain, during a 2008 debate, referred to Obama as "that one".
  1. Unfortunately, the human portion of the gestalt is fully aware if his diminishing control
  2. Batman wasn't actually talking about Superboy, just the Superman logo that he was wearing.