During the month of August, we are exploring the topic of gender in the English language.
On this page you will find a growing list of resources regarding this topic.
If you would like to contribute with a link or links, please contact us, or leave a comment.
Gender for the language learner
View our definition of gender.
Gender English – our blog posts
Watch your manguage
English has a rich history of so-called ‘man-words’: jocular terms that use man as a prefix or as part of a compound or blend (portmanteau, if you like). This formula has been very productive in recent years: the Urban Dictionary lists hundreds of man-words and man-phrases, such as man hug, man-girlfriend, man-tourage, and manbroidery.
You say “lovely”, I say “great”
One interesting project is looking at differences in language use between men and women. By analysing millions of Twitter messages where the writer can be reliably categorised as male or female, the researchers are able to compare the way particular words or phrases are used.
Purses & wallets: corpus sex differences
The interesting thing is that he is represented 4 times more than she is on the internet, at least according to the results obtained by Google.
Problems with pronouns
Plural pronouns (they, them, their, themselves) have been used for centuries to refer to singular antecedents, not only in informal speech but in classic literature. This raises the hackles of sticklers, though, who protest that it contravenes grammatical concord.
Getting cute about gender
A recent study used a Twitter-based corpus to examine the relationship between language and gender. One of the things it looked at was “gender-skewed words” – words used by one gender more than the other.
What’s a nice girl like you doing in a dictionary like this?
It’s a fundamental principle of lexicography that the dictionary’s role is to explain what words mean by observing how people use them – not to make pronouncements about what is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. It follows that dictionaries shouldn’t take sides in any area of language use, but in some cases this is unavoidable.
It’s political correctness gone mad (Part 1)
Political correctness and the related adjective politically correct are good examples of words that have undergone ‘pejoration’: originally neutral or even positive terms, they have gradually taken on more negative connotations, to the point that they are now used only in order to criticize.
It’s political correctness gone mad (Part 2)
Long before ‘PC’ became a target for outright hostility, it was often the object of ridicule. For example, the way we refer to someone with a physical disability has changed several times in the last 30 years or so: first, the highly offensive crippled gave way to handicapped, but then that was also seen as offensive (it appears to equate disability with incapacity), so the preferred adjective became disabled.
Fighting fire with ‘firefighter’
Before an expression falls into disuse and another takes its place, there can be a period of tension over their respective advantages and acceptability. As people debate such questions, they seek guidance from authoritative sources like dictionaries, which track meanings as they shift and drift and settle anew.
She’ll be right, mate
The possessive of the neuter pronoun, “its”, seems to have come into prominent use in English in about 1600, before which time the masculine singular possessive “his” had indiscriminately colonised the non-human world.
The future of gender in English
Prescriptivists find the gender-specific pronoun he to violate the rules of pronoun agreement (hence the emergence of epicene pronouns), and they have the same objection to the singular they used as a replacement for the generic masculine or the third person singular it.
Picking a fight
Cameron surveyed a huge range of research into conversation among and between men and women, and found that very little of it indicated any significant difference between how women and men used (for example) more direct or indirect forms of language, spoke more or fewer words, or competed with each other or collaborated.
Gender English – other useful links
On women and new words
In the 21st century, it is generally considered slightly derogatory or offensive to refer to any female over a certain age as a girl. And yet we can observe neologisms which include girl and other words which might be considered sexist or derogatory in other contexts.
Language awareness: sensitivity – avoiding offence
There are a number of Usage notes in the Macmillan English Dictionary that deal with sensitive language. By sensitive language we mean words that you need to be careful about using because their use may, intentionally or not, insult or offend some people.