Tag Archives: sexist writing

What to Call Half the Population

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ICK!

Are they females or women? In most cases, female is the adjective and woman is the noun. Referring to women lawyers is unnecessary; we don’t refer to men lawyers. In vocations that were until quite recently male, it may be necessary to write, for example,  female soldiers.

If you want to use female as a noun, reserve it for the following situations: for animals; when you don’t know if the person in question is a girl or a woman; and when describing a gathering that includes both girls and women.

It’s common for women to describe their close female friends as their girlfriends. It would be a very good idea for males to avoid calling women girls. And it grates on my ear when I hear women refer to their female friends as gals. Ick. But that’s just me.

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You Guys

 

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I’m wondering how you feel about the ubiquitous phrase you guys. We went to brunch today with another couple: two women and two men. The server repeatedly referred to us as you guys: Are you guys ready to order? Do you guys want any coffee? Is there anything else I can get you guys?

I’m not sure what the female equivalent of guys is. Gals? (I hate that word.) Girls? I’m long past my girlhood. Dolls, as in the great Broadway show? (But ick.)

It’s not as if people don’t recognize two sexes at the table. But if a female-denoting word were habitually to be used to address a mixed-gender group, I’m guessing the males would stifle that immediately. Are women ready to announce they are not guys? Or do we let it roll over us and fuggedaboudit?

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Have You Checked Your Sexist Dictionary Lately?

Recently, the New York Times ran an article about the role of dictionaries: should the definitions be descriptive (conforming to the way in which words are currently used) or proscriptive (in essence, showing how words should be used, according to current standards)?

The esteemed Oxford Dictionaries, including the New Oxford American Dictionary that comes with every Apple device in North America, was outed as being surprisingly sexist in many of its definitions. Here are a few examples:

shrill |SHril|
noun [ in sing. ]
a shrill sound or cry: the rising shrill of women’s voices.

Why were “women’s voices” used as an example? Does nothing else make high-pitched and piercing sounds? Bird calls? Machinery? Brakes? Avoid stereotypes.

rabid |ˈrabəd, ˈrā-|
adjective
1 having or proceeding from an extreme or fanatical support of or belief in something: a rabid feminist.

In fact, more sports fans than feminists have been defined as rabid, according to linguistic studies. Have I cautioned you to avoid stereotypes?

psyche 1 |ˈsīkē|
noun
the human soul, mind, or spirit: I will never really fathom the female psyche.

Do you see the smoke coming out of my ears? Observe: more smoke coming:

hysterical
adjective
1 Janet became hysterical: overwrought, overemotional, out of control, frenzied, frantic, wild, feverish, crazed;

It’s always Janet, poor, crazy, unhinged Janet. Have you watched a political debate recently? Did you notice any males who could easily fit this description?

bossy 1 |ˈbôsē, ˈbäs-|
adjective (bossier, bossiest) informal
fond of giving people orders; domineering: she was headlong, bossy, scared of nobody, and full of vinegar.

Note the use of the feminine pronoun.

bossy
adjective informal
we’re hiding from his bossy sister: domineering, pushy, overbearing, imperious, officious, high-handed, authoritarian, dictatorial, controlling; informal high and mighty. ANTONYMS submissive.

The brother couldn’t possibly be bossy; but that sister! She is tyrannical.

And finally:

nag 1 |nag|
verb (nags, nagging, nagged) [ with obj. ]
annoy or irritate (a person) with persistent fault-finding or continuous urging: she constantly nags her daughter about getting married | [ with infinitive ] : she nagged him to do the housework

People, this is 2016. Who is editing the dictionary? And why am I haranguing you with this subject? I urge you to be diligent about checking your writing for inadvertent, stereotypical sexism.

If you wouldn’t mention that you saw a man lawyer last week, there is no reason to point out that you happened to see a woman lawyer (and NOT a “lady” lawyer—gentility is irrelevant). Both males and females graduate from law school and pass the bar. The same advice holds for all professions that used to be almost exclusively male but have not been for a very long time: medicine, dentistry, veterinary medicine, fire fighters, police officers, soldiers, etc. And the reverse holds true: men today commonly are nurses, secretaries and flight attendants.

If you wouldn’t mention your male co-worker’s hair color or his clothes, don’t point out your female co-worker by her red hair—or her blue sweater.

Check your pronouns to make sure they’re inclusive. One easy trick to help you avoid the awkward “his or her” or “he or she” is to make your subject plural and use a plural pronoun to refer to that subject, such as “they” or “their,” for example.

Dentists today do much more than fill their patients’ cavities

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My All-Time Favorite Typo

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This goes back a long way, but it is a typo I saw with my own eyes in the San Francisco Chronicle (often called the SF Comical because of its frequent typos) in the early 1970s. It was soon reprinted in The New Yorker for readers’ enjoyment.

Here is the back story: In those days, the Chronicle published not only engagement and marriage announcements but also divorce announcements of so-called prominent residents. Also at that time of the Vietnam War, many troop trains were leaving from Oakland, CA. That may seem like a non-sequitur, but stay tuned.

A prominent San Francisco “socialite” at that time, whose parties and adventures were closely monitored by the newspaper, was named Dolly McMasters Johnson. This is what the Chronicle wrote when the Johnsons announced they were divorcing: “Mr. (Iforgethisfirstname) Johnson is suing his wife, Dolly McMasters Johnson, for divorce on grounds of frigidity. [Insert a troop train.]”

I recall the article went on to give personal facts of interest to readers about the unhappy couple, but after that lead, what could be more fascinating?

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Loaded Words

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Loaded language is a way to belittle people, to sneer at others, to deprecate them. Here are a few examples:

1. Loophole—this implies sneaky behavior. It may be something we all are deserving of (a legal tax deduction, for example), but calling it a loophole lends it an unethical veneer.

2. Claim—if you write that someone “claims” something, you are casting some doubt on what was said or written. Don’t be afraid to use “say” or “said,” “writes” or “wrote.”

3. So-called—here the eyebrows are being raised to the hairline. You are automatically diminishing whatever “so-called” is modifying. “The so-called Equal Rights Amendment”? You are saying that if it passes (and will it ever?), it really won’t be about equal rights for women.

4. Elitist—why don’t you just come out and say someone is a snob?

5. Liberal—for many years now, political campaigns have tried to paint this word in a negative light, tying liberals to abortion, drugs, big spending, wasteful government , integration, adequate health care and government entitlements. As as result, many liberals now call themselves progressives, even though they still know they are liberal at heart.

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Eliminate Sexist Writing: Solutions to Avoid the Generic “He”

It used to be that the pronoun “he” was used indiscriminately for both men and women. However, since women comprise approximately 51% of the US population, they got all uppity several decades ago and decided there had to be a better solution.

To avoid using the awkward “he and she” and “his and her,” you have two easy solutions:

1. Eliminate the pronoun:  Instead of “Everyone will receive his or her evaluation at the end of the week,” change it to “Everyone will receive an evaluation.”

2. You can also make the subject plural: “All employees will receive their evaluations at the end of the week.”

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Eliminate Sexist Writing: Don’t Assume

In our continuing series of solutions to sexist writing (and speaking), avoid assumptions, as in the following sentence:

Overworked dentists frequently neglect their wives and children.

Perhaps fifty years ago you could have gotten by with that sentence, but today many dentists, as well as doctors, lawyers, veterinarians, firefighters and police officers, are female.

Conversely, many nurses and secretaries are male. It works both ways.

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