2017 Laws of Duplicate Bridge - GENDER NEUTRAL EDITION


The lawbook is the most universal vehicle for interacting directly with bridge players. At a time where card games compete with rapidly evolving technology for the game’s survival, it makes good sense that this book be inclusive and relevant to all.

Initiated simply to bring the language of the lawbook in line with current practice, actually this project gives the lawmakers a simple, practical way to make sure that every bridge player, administrator, organiser and director feels valued equally.


To create an edition of the 2017 Laws of Duplicate Bridge which has the same legal meaning and structure as the current publication, but avoids all marginalising language.

A staged process

  1. Identify the key audience – ie who might be marginalised by the content?
  2. Establish a pass/fail protocol for identifying and determining marginalising language in context of gender, education and age
  3. Establish acceptable criteria for re-tone of language
  4. Rewrite all laws which failed protocol (2.)
  5. Test & adopt

Scope & Limitations

The audience considered as relevant includes but is not limited to all current and future bridge players, directors, organisers, administrators and students. Limitations were to specifically avoid rewriting any law in entirety, and avoid changing the meaning in any way. The team involved in this project all contributed on a voluntary basis – a New Zealand sub-editor, an Australian linguist, two EBL qualified English TDs and myself - a marketing professional and bridge TD and teacher.

Detailing the process

In stages 1 and 2 we asked and listened to current bridge folk, as well as thinking to the future – diligent parents who read up the laws want to feel that the game is relevant for their kids, newly retiring men and women who take up the game tomorrow, are today’s professionals required to comply with inclusive policies. And we researched media to better understand how bridge is perceived by non-bridge players, and why.

We looked at the laws and the scale of the non-inclusive content. A word search produced 388 references to he, his or him – only two referred to a specific individual. Two patterns of gender specific language emerged from the remaining 368 pronouns: - Repetition using singular pronouns -  eg The Director may himself perform the shuffle and regular use of singular pronoun referring to a general audience – eg Dummy 1. Declarer’s partner. He becomes dummy when

Pattern 1 was relatively straightforward to correct for current practice. The second pattern was the biggest challenge of the project. No singular neutral pronoun exists in English – so we considered various rewording strategies:

Option 1:          Make everything plural – “all players take their cards from the pocket”

Option 2:          Alternate “he” and “she” law by law – This option was proposed by an English QC barrister who cited the Interpretation Act 1978 Section 6(ii)

Option 3:          Change every singular pronoun to “she” and alter the disclaimer to read  where we say she we mean he too…’  - perfect grammar, legal, and would give redress to the imbalance created by the grammarians of the 1800s who took William Lily’s 1567 grammar written for his English students a bit too literally – at a time when it suited the audience to change English to suit a contemporary purpose. (More details in the slides).

Option 4:             Rewrite the non-compliant laws –the suggestion of choice for every source quoted along the lines of “I would advise rewording to avoid having to use a gender-neutral singular third-person pronoun” (see presentation).

Option 5:             Adopt “their” as a singular pronoun – “…each player takes their cards…”

The 2004 edition of Cambridge English Grammar lists “they” as one of five contemporary gender neutral grammar options p493 17.2.4 (e) reverting ‘he’ back to its gender specific usage. " ‘Their’ was Named the Word of the Year by a crowd of over 200 linguists at the American Dialect Society's annual meeting in Washington, D.C. on Friday evening. Singular they, which The Post officially adopted in its Style guide in 2015, is already a common habit in American speech. An example: "Everyone wants their cat to succeed." Washington Post Jan 2016

Watching the progress of this project, the EBU have now published the 2018 White Book with completely gender-neutral language (opting for singular ‘their’)

Option 6:             Adopt eg she/he and/or he/she and his/her or her/his as a singular pronoun

Option 1 reduced the clarity of the laws by generalising specific situations so deemed unsuitable. Option 2 was deemed to be confusing in that it could lead to inferences that some laws were biased to specific individuals/groups. Option 3 is not current practice. Option 4 is outside of the scope of the project. Option 6 is current practice, but deemed unsuitable given that the laws are intended to be read and paraphrased out loud and as such saying he/she, or s/he distracts from the intended message.

OPTION 5 as comprehensively demonstrated by the accompanying slides to be current practice, avoids all the issues of the other options, and is the simplest, quickest, and avoids any law rewrites.

Having decided on the re-tone strategy, I embarked on MSWord find and retone exercise, then the team checked and rechecked law by law for accuracy and readability.

The Testing stage produced no complaints for the most part about the law accuracy, however some laws are highlighted as “it would be good if the laws committee could clarify we have addressed the true intent accurately”.

The feedback on the language falls into two clear camps – those who don’t like ‘their’ as a singular pronoun. But equally this type of feedback was also received:

                “This law is actually more clear now”

                “Great now I feel that the lawbook is intended for me too”

                “What did you change? – it still says the same thing just without the ‘he’”

                “Thanks for bringing this dusty book into the 20th century”


The European Bridge League has agreed to put a gender-neutral version of the 2017 Laws on its website but requires endorsement from the WBF Laws Committee.

It would be a highly relevant to also update WBF documents at the same time – for example the Screen regulations in use at this Championships.

Why is it important to make this document available?

Two of the dictionaries referenced for our research define marginalise as follows:

Marginalize -Treat (a person, group, or concept) as insignificant or peripheral.

Marginalise (tr) to relegate to the fringes, out of the mainstream; make seem unimportant

All of us are desperately seeking to promote bridge as a game for everyone –it’s just plain crazy to let anyone feel excluded, insignificant or peripheral!

At the same time this retone does away with any subtle conditioning that players TDs and organisers are and/or should be male.

Accompanying material

  1. A powerpoint presentation exploring singular “they” - its use, history and changing popularity through time
  2. A gender neutral version of the Laws of Duplicate Bridge 2017
  3. A gender neutral version of the Laws of Duplicate Bridge 2017 with changes highlighted



Nicole Barclay