Sexist language and how to avoid it
The New Oxford Dictionary (1998) makes it clear that sexist language
is to be avoided in politically correct, modern English. Here are some
of the problem areas and solutions.
Generic terms like mankind and man when used to
mean people of both sexes are criticized by the New Oxford Dictionary both
because they are old-fashioned and also that they make males more central
than females. One solution is using people, humanity and
humankind instead. Some find humankind (Norw. menneskeheten)
a strange term, but it has existed since the 17th century. So before you
entitle a book or paper «Industrial Man» or «Political
Man», consider «Industrial Life» or «Politics»
instead. If you do mean woman and man as in Sheila Rowbotham's
«Woman's Consciousness, Man's World», there is no problem.
Today, mankind should only be used for males exclusively.
It follows from this that the man in the street could be replaced
by «the average person»; a man-machine interface could
be «a human-machine interface»; manpower could be «workforce»,
«workpower», «personnel» or «human resources»;
man's achievements in space could be «human achievements».
When man occurs in expressions like «time and tide wait for
no man» this could be rephrased into «time and tide wait for
- man also occurs in some occupations or roles. Here the New
Oxford Dictionary suggests that unless you mean a male and only a male:
businessman becomes «business person», chairman
becomes «chair/chairperson» («chair» is now the
the official designation adopted by some British societies), fireman
becomes «firefighter», foreman becomes «supervisor»,
layman becomes «layperson», policeman becomes
«police officer», postman Pat's days are over as postman
becomes «postal worker», and sportsman becomes «sportsperson»,
and so on. Even though «a Frenchman and Frenchwoman are present»
is better than using «Frenchman» for both sexes, it is also
longer. A solution is saying that «two French people are present».
The verb to man is more difficult to replace by a single standard
accepted alternative. Unless you are only referring to males, it should
be avoided. Here are some suggestions: Instead of writing «this station
is manned from 8 am to 2 pm», you could write «personnel are
at this station from 8 am to 2 pm». An office can be «staffed»,
not «manned». Avoid «manning a ship» by rephrasing
and using «the ship's crew».
(More tips on avoiding sexist language, in my next corner.)
European Commission, «EU-Commission»
The Norwegian habit of referring to the non-existent «EU-kommisjonen»
is spreading from the daily press to NTNU's English web pages. The NTNU
and SINTEF search engine Manvit gives a couple of dozen hits for «EU-kommisjonen».
I have also found some hits on «EU Commission» on other Norwegian
web pages. The trouble is that neither in correct Norwegian terminology,
nor in English is there any such body. In Norwegian, it is «Europakommisjonen».
In English, this body is known variously as the «European Commission»,
the «Commission of the European Communities» or just the «Commission».
This confusion in Norway is not unique. A quick check on a Europa general
information database with 750 000 documents gives 38 000 hits for the «European
Commission» and less than 200 for «EU Commission» (most
of which seem to come from non-official sources, I hope none of these are
mathematics, maths, math
Mathematics (Norw. matematikk) like other academic subjects
ending with -ics takes a singular verb in that sense of the word:
«Mathematics was not Winston's Churchill's best subject. He recalled:
'The figures were tied in all sorts of tangles and did things to each other
which it was extremely difficult to forecast'».
When mathematics means the operations involved in a problem,
mathematics often takes a plural verb: «The mathematics of general
relativity are beyond me».
Maths is the normal BE abbreviation and it takes either a singular
or a plural verb, in the same way as mathematics.
Math is the AE abbreviation of mathematics: «Math
gives him most pleasure».
An abbreviation for the Tokyo International Trade Fair appeared on the
uniforms of numerous attractive female guides on appropriately positioned
badges that said «TIT Fair».
Some fishy dishes on Japanese menus:
«fried flesh water shrimps» and «caab meet batter
An American businessman was very politely asked by a Japanese secretary:
«May I have your office telephone number and your privates?»