or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

He said, she said

I saw the phrase "woman lawyer" on a web page, and for the umpteenth time I just don't get it.

How did this usage evolve? "Woman" is a noun, not an adjective. We have a perfectly good adjectival form, "female". We don't say "man nurse" or "man secretary", we say "male nurse" and so on. If we absolutely must specify the sex of the professional, why don't we say "female lawyer"?

And, to go further, most of the time we don't need to specify the sex anyway. If we say "He's a nurse" or "She's a lawyer", it contains all the information we need--the often-heard "He's a male nurse" is not only redundant (in a bad way), it's archaic, as if we were shocked that a person of that sex could actually be in such a profession. A male kindergarten teacher? A female doctor? O tempora! O mores!

Sometimes, of course, we do need the adjective. "She doesn't trust male doctors--she'll only go to a female oncologist" is a reasonable sentence. But the adjective is, or ought to be, "female", not "woman".


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