Thingish Things

Female Women of the Feminine Kind

Written By: William F. B. O'Reilly - Jan• 25•11

Whenever someone complains to me about a pet peeve, I tend to acquire it. So, in the hope that others are similarly susceptible, and in an effort to make the smallest dent in the world of words, here is one of mine.

I am reminded of it today by a headline in Britain’s Daily Mail: “Woman Mayor Shows Her Horrific Scars After Surviving Two Assassination Attempts by Mexican Gangs.”

I’m no grammatical genius – I couldn’t tell an apposition from a periphrastic if you hypnotized me – but I can pretty much tell when something sounds awful…awfully…when something sounds awfully awful. And that headline does, to me at least.

It’s the woman thing.  We hear it so often — “woman mayor” or “women candidates” – that it’s probably begun to sound normal to some people.  To me it sounds like gravel being shoved into my ears.

Last I checked, the word “woman” was a noun and the word “female” was an adjective.  But we almost never hear from female candidates any more, just women ones.

This is all the fault of men.  I guarantee it.  We have become so fearful of saying something, anything insensitive to women that we use the word “woman” a couple of thousand times a day each, even when we know it doesn’t fit.

The word “woman” is 100% certified safe, so we cling to it for dear life, like to a buoy in a lava field. We call girls “women” starting at around seven and boys “men” at around 70. We call female animals women:.  Women cats, women birds – and most certainly women dogs.  We even say it amongst ourselves.  It’s become that ingrained.  It’s Pavlovian. (I am convinced that women are well aware of this dynamic and secretly enjoy watching men squirm. I’m positive my wife does.)

The practice reminds me of a gaffe I heard while watching a Winter Olympics about 10 years ago.  A black skier from Sweden or Switzerland or maybe Swaziland won a medal in a downhill event.  The American broadcaster covering the event, a former downhiller herself, blurted out: “That’s the first time an African-American…from any country…has won an Olympic medal in skiing.”

Poor woman.  Everyone knew what she meant though.

Anyway, that’s my pet peeve. I hope it’s contagious.

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  1. Gerry O'Brien says:

    There’s nothing like a dame!

  2. Me says:

    Why say “woman mayor” at all? Why not just “mayor”? If sex is important, the “her” covers it.

    Oddly enough, I was thinking just the other day how irritated I am by all the references to “girls'” college sports teams. I never hear a men’s college team referred to as “the boys.” And don’t even get me started on how often I see high school and college sports announcements that invariably list all the boys/men’s accomplishments before those of the girls/women, even when the only teams worth writing about have an abundance of ponytails. Example: “The boys’/men’s (depending on whether it’s high school or college) soccer team is picking up speed, bringing their record to a respectable 3-7, etc. Oh, yeah, and the girl’s/women’s team is enjoying a 14-0 record, has never been scored against, and is on track to compete in the nationals.”

    Do our pet peeves cancel each other out? 🙂

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