Thursday, October 18, 2012

Bird is NOT the word

Update 22-10-12: This blog has been reposted on The Good Men Project. Check out their site great articles on a wide range of issues centered around men and identity in 21c.

Today I am looking for help. I need words.

When writing about men and women I obviously find myself referring to people of a given sex by a collective term such as “men” or “women”. In order to avoid my writing sounding repetitive I try and use other words that mean the same.

In the case of men I find this easy and have a bunch of the synonyms at my disposal.

Men, males, blokes, chaps, gents, guys, fellas, dudes, lads, boys.

To my knowledge none of these are considered offensive (please let me know if I am wrong) to anybody.

My problem comes when trying to find words for women. There are certainly several such terms but many are contraindicated for use as they are considered patronising, belittling or demeaning.

Sure we have the basics: - women, ladies, females - but in a lengthy article even these can get repetitive. So what are my alternatives?

Chicks or birds? As a younger fella I used these words as standard and to be honest never received a complaint (my ex told me it’s because I didn’t sound patronising the way I said it), but I can see how animal comparisons can be taken as an insult and no longer use these terms (I will sidestep usage of “hen night”). Girls or lasses? Again both terms I have used in the past but have read that referring to women in the diminutive is offensive to some and so I cut it out.  

At the moment I am just thinking about writing, but this comes into play in spoken word too. For some reason to me it sounds better greeting a group of women as “Hi girls” rather that “Hi ladies”. Not sure why, maybe something I saw on TV or read in a book, but for now I just use the generic “Hi”.  As an aside, my mother is in approaching her 70s and still has “lunch with the girls”. She doesn't seem to use the term demeaningly.

Secondly I need informal terms of address for people I meet in daily life without needing to know their names. When I am talking to a man i don’t know I can call him mate, or pal, or buddy, or chap, geezer, fella, dude or even John (which I find useful as a way of finding out their name when they correct me).

But my old forms of address for women I now try to avoid in most cases as I know they can offend. These would be words like darling, flower, petal and love (apropos of nothing, i got asked “giz a chip love?” by a girl of around 12 the other day, made me smile). Should I use the same forms of address as I do for men? I have a colleague who calls all female colleagues mate and for him it sounds natural, but I just don’t feel it rolls off my tongue very well.

So, please can someone help me with alternative informal words for these situations?  The thesaurus is most un-obliging in this matter.



  1. i'm bringing it home since the Good Men Project has probably lost interest... Re: Wondersocket: in a conversation with some friends about WHY this could be offensive when no one had ever heard it; 'Imagine the term for vagina, instead of for women'. One friend says 'We were raised with a theocracy (meaning Christo-Judea thought) and referring to 'fun' in sex is difficult.' Contrast this term with 'Nimbusova' which no one finds offensive; an the ancient terms it refers to fertility, the egg. The middle ground was Kisswicket, which contained the hard Germanic syllables we associate with slang (cock, fuck) but didn't directly reference the vagina. Here's the ruleset to rolling your own: informal has those hard vocal consonants, espec. at the end; formal romantic ends softly and references fertility, life-giving; obscene can substitute directly for a cum receptacle.

    1. At first hearing though Wondersocket sounds funny, but certainly more along the pet names line of address. So many words do not stand up to scrutiny if analysed that way. Honestly not able to say I have analysed this as deeply as you have, but am intrigued by your thoughts on this.
      Nimbusova sounds a tad new age to me, so I would have to agree on kisswicket. You are definately right about the hard sounds at the end though. Perhaps what we also need are more light hearted (though not cutsie) nicknames for the vagina that dont carry the same baggage of female oppression. Obviously not for formal settings.

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