Gender has two significant meanings:
1. In the grammar of some languages, such as Latin, French or German, it is typically each of the masculine, feminine, common or neuter forms of nouns, pronouns, adjectives, etc., distinguished by the different inflections required by the words associated with them.
2. The behavioral, cultural, or psychological traits typically associated with either of the two sexes rather than their biological differences.
Gender in English
Grammatical gender is not present in modern English. Gendered nouns and pronouns refer only to the actual or perceived gender of a subject, or "natural gender" in linguistic terms (ex: "The man returned his daughter's toy to her after fixing it."). Two optional exceptions are traditional use of female pronouns for ships and nation states.
Gender neutrality, neologisms and language change
Since the advent of feminism, the gay movement and gender theory, there has been a move toward increased gender-neutrality in English usage. Gender associated changes to the language have gained varying levels of acceptance.
The move toward gender neutral job titles has been widely accepted, eg "server" in place of "waiter" and "waitress", "chairperson" or simply "chair" in place of "chairman" and "chairwoman". Likewise "flight attendant" or "firefighter". However, most job titles in English are, in fact, gender neutral: "teacher", "doctor" and "architect", etc. Some job titles that used to have a feminine version now are used in the shorter version for both sexes (e.g. poet/poetess).
One awkward strategy for gender neutral personal pronouns is to use "he/she" or "he or she" when the subject's gender is indeterminate. Another alternative is the singular "they" which has many precedents in the history of English.
The traditional gender neutral "he" was traditionally regarded to mean "he or she", however this usage is challenged by some.
Ms is the modern feminine counterpart to Mr. It does not mean married as does Mrs, nor does in mean unmarried as does Miss. Although first recorded in 1767, it wasn't until 1972 that the U.S. Government Printing Office started using it in official government documents. And it wouldn't be until 1986 that The New York Times started using it by default, having previously come out with such fine gems as "Miss Steinem, editor of Ms. magazine." or "Nancy B. White, a retired school administrator in Bloomington, Ind., who cheered Mrs. Clinton on in primary rallies last spring, wishes Ms. Clinton would have stayed on Capitol Hill."
On the other hand, the following respelled nouns and personal pronouns are much less common and somewhat controversial: "womyn" replacing "woman"/"women"; "herstory" replacing "history" when referring to females (the etymology of "history" is not derived from "his+story").
- The Compact Oxford English Dictionary at askoxford.com
- Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary Retrieved May 18, 2009
- Gibbs, Nancy. "Mrs., Ms. or Miss: Addressing Modern Women" TIME. Retrieved 23rd March 2013.