As You Know, 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 the pronoun is almost entirely used for inanimate objects or wild animals. Calling someone "it" is therefore tantamount to denying he or she is a real person. (Well, much of the time. "Who is it?" "It's George" is standard English.)
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. Perhaps the person in question is of undetermined gender or even just doesn't have one. The worst victims of this trope are probably Artificial Humans and Ridiculously Human Robots.
Needless to say, this trope gets to be troublesome when referring to a person who fits neither he/him 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 note Though such a Grammar Nazi would likely do well to learn this has been done in English since at least Shakespeare. "One" is sometimes used (as in "It can be difficult find one's way at night,") but isn't universally used across the Anglosphere; is often considered in British English to be extremely archaic, upper-class and pretentious; and can be awkward when the speaker is referring to a specific person, especially if that person is standing right there.
Compare What Measure Is a Non-Human?, Do Androids Dream?, and Pronoun Trouble.
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Anime & Manga
Invoked in High School Of The Dead. The protagonists intentionally called the zombies "them" to help accept they're not living people anymore.
In Kaze no Stigma, there's a girl who was created as a replacement for a woman who was supposed to be sacrificed to an evil spirit (so 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 (English lacks any widespread "true" gender-neutral third person pronouns so it's common for people to default to "he" if they don't know someone's gender; although as stated in the trope's description, "they" is popularly used as a gender neutral pronoun and would have been far more accurate) 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.
Cheza from Wolf's 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.
In Fruits Basket, when Ren argues against Akito (her own child) becoming the head of the family, she persistently refers to Akito as "that". Earlier, she always refers to Akito as "the baby", while her husband calls Akito by name. Possibly justified, since Akito is a girl masquerading as a boy, but Ren obviously doesn't mind pointing it out and/or dehumanizing her child, either.
In Mahou Sensei Negima!, during her life before Mahora, the people using Asuna for over a century as a weapon and defense system always referred to her as an 'it', seeing her only as a weapon.
While it's not brought up often. The Naruto villains Orochimaru and Kabuto always referred to Yamato as "the experiment" or "one of Orochimaru's experiments", the reason mainly being that Yamato had been kidnapped by Orochimaru as an infant and experimented on just before Orochimaru left the village.
In Hunter × Hunter, the terrifyingly powerful wish-granting entity that lives inside Killua's little sister, Alluka, is referred to only as "Nanika", "Something". Some scanlators have chosen to idiomatically translate this as "It", since it has about the same connotation.
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".
In Avengers Disassembled, when She-Hulk kills (so to speak), the Vision (one of the aforementioned sentient androids — or synthoid, if you want to be technical), in her Scarlet Witch-induced anger, she refers to him as "it".
X-23 suffers triply from this. Not only is she a mutant, but the Facility views her as nothing more than a weapon and their properly so frequently refers to her as "it." And then there's the fact that she's Wolverine's Opposite-Sex Clone, so is often derogatorily called "it" for that reason, as well.
Pastor Sunday in Flesh refers to his mother as "heit" due to his issues.
Mike: (referring to the human toddler) Sully, you're not supposed to name it. Once you name it, you start getting attached to it.
Films — Live-Action
The Silence of the Lambs. Buffalo Bill uses this to address his victims. ("It rubs the lotion on its skin, or else it gets the hose again!") Discussed beforehand when Senator Martin delivers a televised plea to Buffalo Bill, repeatedly referring to her daughter by her given name "Catherine" in the hopes that he will have a harder time depersonalizing her. Given the above line, it clearly didn't have much effect, or he didn't watch the news.
Terminator. This is the common way by the human resistance of referring to the machines.
Blade Runner. Deckard performs the replicant-detector Voight-Kampf test on Rachel, who it confirms is one of them, which she doesn't know. After she leaves the room, Deckard turns to Tyrell, her boss and creator.
Deckard: I don't get it, Tyrell. How can it not know what it is?
In X2: X-Men United, Stryker yells "Shoot it!" in reference to Wolverine (sort of).
Played with in X-Men: Days of Future Past, as Trask uses gender pronouns when referring to Mystique and her mutation, but slips into "it" when faced with a mutant in person.
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 scene in August Undergrounds Penance has the serial killer couple break into a suburban home around Christmas. The woman slowly chokes the life out of a little girl as her boyfriend screams "Kill it! Kill it!"
In Alien: Resurrection, General Perez and the doctors are discussing the development of the Ripley 8 clone, referring to her as "it".
Halloween: Samuel Loomis, as per his not-unjustified belief that Michael Myers is nothing but pure evil, refers to him as an "it" on more than one occasion, even stating in Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers that Michael's humanity died years ago.
In Bicentennial Man, Andrew's manufacturer insists on referring to Andrew as "it" despite the fact that he shows things such as sentience, emotions, and creativity, and gets annoyed when Mr. Martin uses "he" instead, saying that is a common mistake to make since Andrew is built to resemble a human. One of the major points in the film is when Andrew starts referring to himself as "I" instead of "this one", as he'd been programmed to.
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."
Played With 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 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 a 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. The respectful "It" is kind of a quirk of Betan culture. Members of other, less-widely-known genderless minorities may still not take it very kindly. Cetagandan ba (which is both the name of the caste, and its proper pronoun), for example, aren't very likely to take offense at anything, but their Haut creators/employers/cousins will take offense on their behalf.
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.
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.note Unfortunately, the human portion of the gestalt is fully aware of his diminishing control.
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.
Harry Dresden has issues with this. On at least two separate occasions, the Archive & Lasciel's Shadow, he bestowed names on beings who went more by titles than proper names, enabling them to develop actual personalities.
On the flip side, Michael emphatically refers to Mavra as "it". She then refers to herself that way to show how unintimidated she is.
In the Sector General books by James White, set on a space-station hospital chock-a-block with alien species, non-humans are all referred to as "it" ... as long as the viewpoint character is human. When we switch to an ET viewpoint, people of their species get gendered pronouns and all the others, including humans, become "it." This usage is intended to avoid causing offense or confusion by using incorrect pronouns to refer to aliens who may have more (or less, or just Different) genders than male/female. It's specifically noted that the only time gendered pronouns of any sort are used in conversation between hospital staffers is when an entity's gender is relevant, such as a patient who is hospitalized for a dysfunction of the reproductive system.
The Chronicles of Narnia uses a similar convention. The narration refers to talking animals as "it" when their personal names aren't in use or known. ("Mr. Beaver" is "he" but "the beaver" is "it.") Humans use the same rule. Talking animals refer to humans as "it" when their individual names aren't known.
The Centaurians in The Pentagon War are both male and female at the same time, and are referred to as "it." While this may be dehumanizing, the Centaurians aren't human to begin with.
Zig-zagged in Mistborn. Heroine Vin initially refers to Big Bad Ruin, a Sentient Cosmic Force, as "it". After encountering Ruin in a human manifestation where it displays several humanlike traits, she switches over to "he". Near the end of the final book, after coming into direct contact with the core of Ruin's consciousness, Vin decides that humanizing Ruin at all does him a favor he doesn't deserve, and switches over to "it" again for the remainder of the story.
In Going Postal, when Miss Maccalariat objects to golems cleaning the ladies' restrooms, the protagonist Moist von Lipwig tries to explain that they often use honorifics like "Mister" with the golems employed at the post office because "it" seems wrong. That said, Miss Maccalariat still has issues because a "Mister" should not clean the lady's restrooms. So Moist gets around this by having the golem who would clean the bathroom as "Miss" and wear dresses. The next time we see this golem in the next Moist bookthe golem, now called Gladys, is a unique entity.
Discussed briefly in the Star Trek book The Lives of Dax, when referring to a Trill symbiont as "it" leaves a character uncomfortable.
Averted in the Red Dwarf novel Last Human, in which the genderless symbi-morph Reketrebn is referred to with the pronoun "it".
In the season 1 episode "Datalore", where Captain Picard at first feels inclined to refer to Data as "he", and to Data's newly-discovered twin brother Lore as "it". Data calls him out on this, and feels uncomfortable at the idea of them being referred to differently when they are both androids. Picard understands and apologizes.
When Dr. Pulaski first sees Data at the helm, she balks at the captain: "You're letting it pilot the ship?" upon which Picard lays a verbal smackdown on her. Given the fact that Data was so popular with the fans that having a one-off character treat him like a machine quickly became shorthand for telling the audience that a character is an asshole, this scene probably was enough to doom Pulaski's character terminally.
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.
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 one episode, a Terminator trying to pass for human aroused a woman's suspicion when she referred to the woman's child as "it."
In Fringe, when Peter gets thrown back into the timeline, Walter keeps referring to him as "it" and "the subject".
Comes up with human-form Replicators in the Stargate Verse. Specifically, in Stargate Atlantis, McKay and Zelenka create a Replicator to use as a weapon against the rest of the Replicators. Everyone else is a bit squicked by this since "she" is self aware. McKay, however, steadfastly insists that "it" is just a weapon. FRAN herself seems to agree with him, pointing out that his concern at sending her to her destruction is silly.
In Battlestar Galactica (Reimagined), Cylon characters (even some who were generally recognized as allies by the humans) were often referred to as "it" by human characters.
Horrible Histories has a blink-and-you'll-miss-it example during Marcus Licinius Crassus' song:
I called my slave to the cave to ask it To cook a feast and lower in a basket
The introduction of Malakim angels in Steve Jackson Games In Nomine has an angel use this trope when referring to a demon.
In OGRE by Steve Jackson Games, one of the bits of flavour text in the manual mentions that the eponymous giant A.I. tanks are never referred to by the traditional "she". Friendly OGREs are "he" and enemy OGREs are "it".
In Exalted, Nara-O, god of secrets, is often referred to as "it" since even by god standards it appears to be entirely non-gendered, in keeping with its secretive nature (although it may just be a case of Ambiguous Gender, also in keeping with the secretive nature).
This trope can appear in French, even though the French language does not have a neuter gender. In the play Becket by Jean Anouilh, when King Henry meets a smelly peasant girl he doesn't say "Elle pue" (she stinks), he says "Ça pue" (that stinks).
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.
In Dragon Age II, it's revealed that the Qunari word for outsider or foreigner is "bas", which means "thing". If you're not a follower of the Qun, you are not even a person. Or if you're a mage, since their word/name for a mage is "Saarebas", meaning "dangerous thing".
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 Portable 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". Oddly, in Mass Effect 2 he refers to EDI as a 'she' just like everyone else. Apparently, he really was just being a jerk.
In 3, Shala'Raan, while less hateful toward the Geth than Han'Gerrel or Daro'Xen, insists on referring to Legion as "it" when Shepard uses "he".
Inverted with the hanar, who refer to themselves in public as "it" or "this one". They consider it extremely rude to use first-person pronouns around people who aren't relatives or extremely close friends. Plus, it's not even known if hanar have genders or gender identity the way most species do.
The Heavy refers to the Pyro as an "it" in the long-awaited "Meet the Pyro" video.
Heavy Weapons Guy: I fear no man. But that... thing. It scares me.
In the same video, the Scout averts this — he refers to the Pyro with both gender pronouns in the same sentence. (Valve's official policy on the Pyro's gender/real identity is that at this point, not answering the question is far more entertaining and interesting than any answer they could ever create.)
The Masters of the Bazaar are generally called "it", despite going by "Mr.", although they do get called "he" sometimes. This is because nobody even knows what they are other then "not human".
This doesn't apply to gender-neutral player characters, though, for whom the narrative system will twist itself into knots to call you several variants of "person of indistinct gender" instead of "it". Most of the references being in second-person helps.
In Fallout: New Vegas, Trudy (the bartender in Goodsprings) repeatedly refers to Victor (the robot with a cowboy persona) as an "it", even when the player calls him "he". She's not a bad person, she just doesn't trust Victor.
In the Dawnguard expansion for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Isran, the leader of the Dawnguard (a group of vampire hunters), is incredibly rude to the vampire Serana when she tries to help, and refers to her as "it" when speaking to you.
In Tales of Graces, Emeraude constantly refers to Sophie as Protos Heis and never uses "she", always "it". This is because she sees Sophie as only a humanoid weapon and not as an actual person, unlike everyone else; which serves as a subtle cue to her true nature.
Inverted the earlier Tales Series game Tales of Vesperia teen researcher Rita Mordio who prefers to spend her time with the Magi Tech Blastia ascribes them pronouns as she sees them as people.
In God of War III, the gods, except for Hephaestus, call Pandora "it", because she is an Artificial Human Hephaestus created. Kratos sees her as a surrogate daughter and get pissed that Zeus won't quit doing this.
Bestovius, in Super Paper Mario, refers to Mario as an "it," with emphasis on the pronoun. It's unclear if he is mocking Mario or if he genuinely thinks this way with a speech quirk.
Gets referenced in Schlock Mercenary, after Ennesby (a viral vannilla-helix A.I.) 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 one strip:
Ennesby: Petey, help! He's demoted me to an "it"!
A gate-guard in The Prime of Ambitionreferred toThanatos this way (the next page shows that he knows what this meant).
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 Our Little Adventure, Julie's group kept referring to Joyelle the Erinyes (a devil who looks like an attractive winged human woman) as "it".
Humans in The Pocalypse use "it" for everything else, including (obviously sapient) vampires.
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".
The SCP Foundation strongly encourages the convention of referring to anomalous humans as "it", since Foundation members shouldn't become attached to the people it has to lock up.
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".note Batman wasn't actually talking about Superboy, he was talking about his suit's S-shield.
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.
In the Family Guy episode "Quagmire's Dad", Peter says to Lois about Quagmire's sex-changed father "What do we call it again?". This is one reason why the episode was criticized.
Earlier in "Running Mates", when Lois tells Chris that women are not objects, Peter responds "That's right, Chris, do what it says."
Kon from Western Animation/Grojband is usually refered to as "It" by his crush Trina Riffin.
Inverted with Charles Lindbergh Jr., the "Lindbergh Baby". He was affectionately referred to as "Little It" by his parents.
Pretty much averted with infants in general. People don't specifically intend to call newborns "it", but new parents can expect to bombarded with questions like "is it a boy or a girl?", "is it healthy?" or "how much does it weigh?" It's also common to refer to unborn children as "it", especially if the parents choose not to find out the gender until the baby's born.
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".
It became a minor scandal when John McCain, during a 2008 debate, referred to Obama as "that one."
In the nonfiction book The Men Who Stare at Goats, a quote from an Abu Gira guard includes the guard referring to a prisoner as it, in addition to descriptions and some photographs of the abuse that was committed there.
In commonly spoken Finnish, "it" is used in the place of he/she by a majority of Finns and it's not usually considered rude or dehumanizing. Though this is never used in legal texts or formal speeches or anything like that.
Averted in real life with Hanson Robotic's Jules (pic◊). The robot is advanced enough to understand that he is sexless and androgynous, yet he calls himself "him" because his creators do the same.
Cory Hicks, one of the four racists who beat Billy Ray Johnson, making him requiring care for the rest of his life, reffered to his victim as "it".
In High/Standart German, the words Kind (child) and Weib (a somewhat archaic word for wife, now being replaced by Frau) are of neutral gender and therefore are referred to as es (it). In general all diminutives like Mädchen (girl, originating from little woman), Männlein (little man), Frauchen (little woman, used for the owner of a dog), Herrchen (little man, used for the owner of a dog), i.e. everything that ends with -chen or -lein is referred to as es (it).
Particularly among English speaking transgender or non-binary people, being called an "it" is considered a very harsh insult, and is often considered a slur.