Author Topic: Gendered terms  (Read 1893 times)

pgher

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Gendered terms
« on: December 11, 2019, 09:55:19 AM »
Merriam-Webster announced "they" as their word of the year. This got me thinking about other gendered words.

My younger child, a teenager, is nonbinary. Assigned female at birth, they don't object to my use of feminine terms like "daughter." But there are nonbinary individuals who do. So what words should we use?

Let's start with that last paragraph. I wrote "nonbinary individuals" where I would normally write "men" or "women." I suppose I could have just written "people," but that loses the nonbinary qualification.

Someday, it will be awkward to refer to my "daughter" (let's call them Q) as my "child." That has an age connotation that "daughter" doesn't. "Offspring" is correct, I suppose, but kind of cold. Meanwhile, what term should my son use instead of "sister"?

If Q becomes a parent someday, what title should they use? "Mom" and "dad" have gendered meanings. They derive from "mother" and "father," so perhaps some derivative of "parent" like "Pa"?

Thoughts? We've spent millennia developing gendered language, so it will take time to develop some gender-neutral terms, I suppose.

dr_codex

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Re: Gendered terms
« Reply #1 on: December 11, 2019, 10:30:43 AM »
Merriam-Webster announced "they" as their word of the year. This got me thinking about other gendered words.

My younger child, a teenager, is nonbinary. Assigned female at birth, they don't object to my use of feminine terms like "daughter." But there are nonbinary individuals who do. So what words should we use?

Let's start with that last paragraph. I wrote "nonbinary individuals" where I would normally write "men" or "women." I suppose I could have just written "people," but that loses the nonbinary qualification.

Someday, it will be awkward to refer to my "daughter" (let's call them Q) as my "child." That has an age connotation that "daughter" doesn't. "Offspring" is correct, I suppose, but kind of cold. Meanwhile, what term should my son use instead of "sister"?

If Q becomes a parent someday, what title should they use? "Mom" and "dad" have gendered meanings. They derive from "mother" and "father," so perhaps some derivative of "parent" like "Pa"?

Thoughts? We've spent millennia developing gendered language, so it will take time to develop some gender-neutral terms, I suppose.

There are some choices, as you know. Your son could use "sibling", for instance. But it's true that gender identity, important for conceptions of family relations for most societies, has deep linguistic structures.

I once tried out "Aged P" (taken from Dickens) on my own mother; it was not well received.

Some change will take time. "Ms." solved a lot of problems, as a more inclusive term. If "they" follows, it will catch on, or something else will replace it.

Frankly, I'd love a singular non-gendered term to catch on. Maybe it's because I've spent much of my life writing "subject/verb agreement" in the margins of essays. Maybe something like "some of y'all" and "all y'all" ("some of they" and "all they"?) will distinguish singular and plural? I concede that French people have gotten along fine with a singular and plural "vous", and other Romance languages don't seem fussed. I'm adaptable.

One of the other qualities of "they" it is that it doesn't discriminate between human and non-human. For posthumanists, that's a real asset.

I'm well aware that some of what jars my ear is analogous to what has jarred people in the past.
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mahagonny

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Re: Gendered terms
« Reply #2 on: December 11, 2019, 11:02:06 AM »

Some change will take time. "Ms." solved a lot of problems, as a more inclusive term.

I almost never hear 'Ms.' these days. Based on my observing, I have to suspect it either wasn't solution that was hoped for, or the number of people needing that solution was smaller than expected.

downer

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Re: Gendered terms
« Reply #3 on: December 11, 2019, 11:05:19 AM »
I like the move towards less emphasis on gender and towards more gender neutrality. I also like some playfulness about gender, such as introducing alternative genders.

I don't particularly identify with a gender, and certainly am not going to call myself cis-anything. Non-binary is a mouthful too.

At the same time, we should remember that biological sex is a good and important category and is mostly dimorphic. There are plenty of sex-related terms that are perfectly useful. Not all male/female terms are gendered. Some are sexed. The distinction between sex and gender is an important one, and shouldn't be made murkier than necessary.
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ergative

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Re: Gendered terms
« Reply #4 on: December 11, 2019, 11:53:41 AM »
Non-binary is a mouthful too.


I've seen 'enby' used for non-binary people (i.e., non-binary -> NB -> enby). It's a short, easy-to-pronounce word that's not already in use with some other meaning, and I hope it catches on.

writingprof

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Re: Gendered terms
« Reply #5 on: December 11, 2019, 04:58:30 PM »
. . . perhaps some derivative of "parent" like "Pa" . . .

Is that true???  I've always assumed that it came from "Papa," which (again, I assume) derives from baby talk, or perhaps a European language's word for father.  Here I must confess my ignorance.

ciao_yall

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Re: Gendered terms
« Reply #6 on: December 11, 2019, 05:21:26 PM »
. . . perhaps some derivative of "parent" like "Pa" . . .

Is that true???  I've always assumed that it came from "Papa," which (again, I assume) derives from baby talk, or perhaps a European language's word for father.  Here I must confess my ignorance.

"Mama" is pretty universal across languages for "mother" because it's the easiest sound for babies to make.

"Papa", "Dada" and "Baba" are the second easiest sounds, so that's how we get "father," again, across languages.

craftyprof

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Re: Gendered terms
« Reply #7 on: December 11, 2019, 07:46:02 PM »
Someday, it will be awkward to refer to my "daughter" (let's call them Q) as my "child." That has an age connotation that "daughter" doesn't. "Offspring" is correct, I suppose, but kind of cold. Meanwhile, what term should my son use instead of "sister"?

If Q becomes a parent someday, what title should they use? "Mom" and "dad" have gendered meanings. They derive from "mother" and "father," so perhaps some derivative of "parent" like "Pa"?

"This is my second-born, Q" should work in most situations.  But I also think it is a parent's right to call their children something age-inappropriate.  Pretty sure my mom still refers to me as her "baby" from time to time.

Sibling isn't a bad substitute for sister/brother - particularly once you get used to saying it so it conveys the same ease and affection/annoyance of any predecessor terms.

pgher

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Re: Gendered terms
« Reply #8 on: December 11, 2019, 08:03:11 PM »
. . . perhaps some derivative of "parent" like "Pa" . . .

Is that true???  I've always assumed that it came from "Papa," which (again, I assume) derives from baby talk, or perhaps a European language's word for father.  Here I must confess my ignorance.

"Mama" is pretty universal across languages for "mother" because it's the easiest sound for babies to make.

"Papa", "Dada" and "Baba" are the second easiest sounds, so that's how we get "father," again, across languages.

Yes, what I meant was, "Papa" is a derivative of father (in other languages). If "parent" is a gender-neutral alternative to mother/father, what would be a good derivative of it?

Someday, it will be awkward to refer to my "daughter" (let's call them Q) as my "child." That has an age connotation that "daughter" doesn't. "Offspring" is correct, I suppose, but kind of cold. Meanwhile, what term should my son use instead of "sister"?

"This is my second-born, Q" should work in most situations.  But I also think it is a parent's right to call their children something age-inappropriate.  Pretty sure my mom still refers to me as her "baby" from time to time.

Sibling isn't a bad substitute for sister/brother - particularly once you get used to saying it so it conveys the same ease and affection/annoyance of any predecessor terms.


Of course--I didn't think about "sibling." I suppose like anything, it will get easier with use.

craftyprof

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Re: Gendered terms
« Reply #9 on: December 13, 2019, 05:24:07 AM »
As a higher education tie in, we've had some debates lately about Latin 101 and what to call individual students after they graduate.

We seem to have landed on "alum" will be tolerated if and only if you acknowledge that it's not a real word and you demonstrate you know the definitions of alumnus/alumna/alumni/alumnae and you are intentionally choosing a gender-neutral alternative.

Anselm

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Re: Gendered terms
« Reply #10 on: December 13, 2019, 09:36:57 AM »
As a higher education tie in, we've had some debates lately about Latin 101 and what to call individual students after they graduate.

We seem to have landed on "alum" will be tolerated if and only if you acknowledge that it's not a real word and you demonstrate you know the definitions of alumnus/alumna/alumni/alumnae and you are intentionally choosing a gender-neutral alternative.

Alumni has been used for so long that I doubt many associate it with men except for Latin purists.

Regarding mom and dad, I always liked "parental units."
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Hegemony

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Re: Gendered terms
« Reply #11 on: December 13, 2019, 01:49:11 PM »
As a graduate of a woman's college, I can vouch for the fact that if someone refers to us as "alumni" rather than "alumnae," there is widespread anger among alumnae.  We've had enough of society using terms for men to mean "people."  And when I, as a woman, read some document from my graduate university referring to "alumni," I think, "Doesn't mean me."

ursula

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Re: Gendered terms
« Reply #12 on: December 13, 2019, 02:48:42 PM »
As a higher education tie in, we've had some debates lately about Latin 101 and what to call individual students after they graduate.

We seem to have landed on "alum" will be tolerated if and only if you acknowledge that it's not a real word and you demonstrate you know the definitions of alumnus/alumna/alumni/alumnae and you are intentionally choosing a gender-neutral alternative.

Alumni has been used for so long that I doubt many associate it with men except for Latin purists.

Regarding mom and dad, I always liked "parental units."

My friends and I have long (since undergrad) referred to our parents and each other's parents as "parental units" or simply "the units".  Spousal unit is along the same lines.

craftyprof

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Re: Gendered terms
« Reply #13 on: December 14, 2019, 08:48:22 AM »
As a higher education tie in, we've had some debates lately about Latin 101 and what to call individual students after they graduate.

We seem to have landed on "alum" will be tolerated if and only if you acknowledge that it's not a real word and you demonstrate you know the definitions of alumnus/alumna/alumni/alumnae and you are intentionally choosing a gender-neutral alternative.

Alumni has been used for so long that I doubt many associate it with men except for Latin purists.

Regarding mom and dad, I always liked "parental units."

I think the Venn diagram of academics and Latin purists is basically a circle.

fleabite

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Re: Gendered terms
« Reply #14 on: December 14, 2019, 09:34:14 AM »
"Sib" is a useful short form for "sibling"(e.g., I have a sib named Q).