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Gender
Posted: 27 February 2007 10:52 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Is “gender” a synonym or a euphemism for “sex”?  Should I be irritated at its use as a synonym, or am I being a nit-picker?

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Posted: 27 February 2007 11:53 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Mostly the latter.  Use as a synonym for “sex” goes back to the 14th century, and although it was fashionable for a while to say that “nouns have gender, people have sex”, that seems to be largely a prescriptivist invention. “Gender” provides a useful alternative when “sex” could ambiguously refer to the activity as well as the dichotomy of male/female.  It’s also sometimes used as a way of emphasizing the social (as opposed to biological) differences between male and female.

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Posted: 27 February 2007 12:14 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I believe a plausible argument can be made that the use of “gender” meaning “sex” was dying out in the late 19th century, and one can speculate that it was revived by the feminist movement, or perhaps by prudishness.  It is not clear to me why, even if all of this is true, this is relevant to its acceptability today.  I consider it perfectly standard, with the advantage of removing the temptation to would-be comedians to answer the “sex” question on forms with “yes”.

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Posted: 27 February 2007 01:14 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Well, it looks like both those who say that a word’s true meaning is the one that has always been used and those who say it is the one that is currently used would have to agree that “gender” is an acceptable synonym for “sex”, so despite my new status as a gazetted prescriptivist, I will now cease my irritation at this use of “gender”.

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Posted: 27 February 2007 06:57 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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The grammatical concept of gender is pretty much dead in Modern English anyway having been almost completely conflated with biological sex.  Dr. T’s comment on the possible ambiguity of the word sex is a point well taken.

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Posted: 27 February 2007 07:10 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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One of my favorite examples:

The manager of a small branch office gets a message from corporate headquarters, saying “Send a list of all employees broken down by sex.”

He writes back: “None. The big problem here is booze.”

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Posted: 27 February 2007 08:09 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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More generally, being irritated by very common English usage is not a good policy. You’ll just continue to be irritated and be unable to do anything about it.

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Posted: 28 February 2007 01:27 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Faldage - 27 February 2007 06:57 PM

The grammatical concept of gender is pretty much dead in Modern English anyway having been almost completely conflated with biological sex.

It wasn’t doing much before the conflation, either, so perhaps it was ripe for reuse. The only gender-specific words I can think of are loan words like blond and fiance (how do you do accents?).

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Posted: 28 February 2007 04:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Even blond(e) is a pretty shaky example.  If you can gather a reasonably large, randomly chosen data base and show that there is any consistent correlation of blond with masculine and blonde with feminine I’ll believe that that’s a good example of something or other.  Besides, in the phrase blond hair , blond is modifying hair, not the person whose hair it is.  Back when such things mattered hair was neuter.  Is that blond or blonde?

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Posted: 28 February 2007 04:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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I was thinking of the noun, not the adjective, but OTOH, men aren’t often described as blonds.

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Posted: 28 February 2007 04:59 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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MWDEU (1989) (a ‘descriptivist’ book) says:

1. Adj.: either “blond” or “blonde” applies to both sexes.

2. Noun “blond” applies to both sexes.

3. Noun “blonde” applies to females.

OTOH, “brunet"/"brunette" is mostly restricted to females (both as adj. and as noun, and in both spellings)!

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Posted: 28 February 2007 06:53 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Regarding “blond(e)”, this isn’t really grammatical gender anyway, though it is close.  A characteristic of grammatical gender is that it does not consistently follow sex.  European tend to have a strong enough correlation that it is a reasonable first approximation, but you always get oddball situations.  What you have in English is a situation where you sometimes have a female version of a word as a (usually optional) marked form (blond/blonde, actor/actress, aviator/aviatrix) and a handful of poetic conventions (ships as females).  None of this is really like the grammatical gender we learned studying Latin.

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Posted: 28 February 2007 07:12 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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the temptation to would-be comedians to answer the “sex” question on forms with “yes”.

I like the story of the elderly gentleman who filled out a government form, and under “sex” wrote “9 1/2”, having misread the word as “sox”.

(this story is obviously from an earlier generation, when people filled out fewer forms)

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Posted: 28 February 2007 09:39 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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One common usage where “gender” adds clarity is in the phrase “gender discrimination.” It is not immediately obvious if “Sex discrimination” would refer to gender bias or to orientation bias.

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Posted: 01 March 2007 08:06 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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"Gender non-specific” I can cope with.  “Non-specific sex” I can’t.

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Posted: 01 March 2007 07:05 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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A “chick sexer”, by the way, used to be a respectable, lucrative, and highly sought after professional, though the workload invariably left this beleaguered inspector of downy parts virtually drained of his (usually his not her) vital juices and energies. Indeed one often had to work a 48 hour shift in order satisfy the demand of chicks to be sexed, sometimes sexing tens of thousands without stop, without stint, without flagging, and with no greater than a five percent error rate. Moreover, the ability to sex chicks cannot properly be learned or taught, it is a gift one is born with much like well-witching and driving Indy 500 race cars. It makes a pale shadow out of candling eggs, believe you me.

Anyway, “gendering chicks” doesn’t sound ... well ... sexy if you will, and I doubt a “chick-genderer” would make as much money. On the other hand, I understand the burn-out rate among hard core sex trade workers is quite high. So there you go, it’s earn a lot of money in a short time and go to an early and enforced retirement or even grave, or else plod along at an even pace and live a long life.

That’s probably the main difference between sex and gender.

I was thinking of the noun, not the adjective, but OTOH, men aren’t often described as blonds.

I was wasting some time at a law firm going through stacks of documents from a MAJOR corporation that was being sued by the Department of Justice for any number of nonsensical reasons I was not privy to. The interesting thing about these files was that not only did they have pie charts, they had actual pie recipes as well as advice on the best hotels to stay at in Caracas. There wasn’t a heck of a lot about dominating the world market in their particular field while crushing the competion under its iron boot-heel, so I suggested to the paralegal in charge that the backroom files would probably yield a lot more evidence. Don’t know if this had anything to do with my being fired soon thereafter. But what I did find odd was an issue concerning the corporation’s upcoming choice of public spokesman for TV commercials. It went something like this: “We need a man who imparts caring, centeredness, and self-confidence. He has to be authoritative yet humble. We want him to be the brother or uncle you turn to in an hour of need, but not too intimate. Whatever he is he absolutely should not be blond.” That statement has kind of haunted me for years.

[ Edited: 01 March 2007 07:39 PM by foolscap ]
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