Feminism has No Place in Linguistics

April 14, 2009
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"Oh dear," you said to yourself on spying the title, "Here goes Alex, ragging on feminists again." But fear not! This is not my usual tirade! This concerns linguistics!

Lately, I have noticed an unsettling argument coming from crotchety old women: They claim that the word woman is inherently sexist because of its apparent root of man, which somehow represents our disregard for those of the female persuasion. When attacking this idea, we may ignore the obvious fact that words are not defined by their etymologies (if that were true, television would mean "far sight", and patient would mean "suffering"), and thus not subject to expressing innate prejudice. We may ignore that valid fact.

Instead, let us look at the actual etymology of the word woman. Woman, as the linguistically inclined of us know, comes from Old English, in the form of wifman, which itself comes from the words wif and mann. Wif meant, simply, female. Mann meant what it still does today in Dutch, German, and, I'm sure in other Northern European languages, and means, simply, person. So, woman comes from the words for "female person". No harm in that, surely?

"Ah-ha!" you now say, feeling sure that you have me now, "What about the word female? Surely that's a variation on male?"

But no! Female comes from Old French, femella, which is a corruption of the Latin, femina, meaning "woman", nothing like the Latin for "man": vir. When English appropriated the word, its spelling was changed slightly to fit their word, male. So yes, it does represent influence of the masculine word, but is by no means a product.

One last thing. There does exist an outright sexist etymology. It induces in me such anger that I can barely force my fingers to type for the tears. However, this evil must be expelled from our beloved English language, and if I don't say it, who will?
It concerns the word girl. The word was first documented in 1290, during the transition from Old to Middle English. It appeared as gyrle, or occasionally as gyrele, and referred to a child of either sex. Eventually, it evolved into its modern definition of a young woman. So, really, they are the women, not the men, who get the linguistic payoff. It seems that feminists have rather been hoisted by their own whatsit.

So the only true sexist word, if you can call any word sexist to begin with, is the word "girl". Shame on the feminists. But, whatever. To claim any word has a persuasion any direction is a truly silly claim in itself. Damn, the feminism movement is cool and totally righteous, but stupid feminists really annoy me.
I'm gonna go get cocoa.

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This article has 5 comments. Post your own now!

paigita said...
Sept. 21, 2012 at 4:37 pm
I really like your writing style.
toxic.monkey said...
Oct. 18, 2010 at 12:19 pm
i respect you for your research! and i like the last bit:P short and clear- goooood job!
earlybird_8 This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Aug. 17, 2010 at 10:30 pm
Wow, how long did this take to research? It's very thorough. What's with the ending?
saimne This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
May 17, 2010 at 8:39 pm

very nice article,

ithink there is alot to be understood bout the english language. i address one of these topics in my article "****!" please read/comment/vote!!!

kiki said...
Feb. 16, 2010 at 12:51 am
Very informative.. I really liked your article.
I could totally see Freud putting a complete reverse on this topic, though. Although, I have always seen the word "woman" as a man with a wo[mb]... but you know, you see where you look.
It is interesting, however, that other cultures, such as that of Japan, do indeed have rather sexist words that quite literally demean the position of women. For example, the kanji for husband is that of a master--and I believe there is some pr... (more »)
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