Tuesday, March 15, 2016

There is No Such Thing as a Woman Lawyer


I have recently been hearing professional broadcasters on radio and television using phrases like, “woman lawyer” and “woman athlete.” It must stop. The word “woman” is a noun and it may not be used to modify another noun. The common adjective you would use here is of course “female,” though a writer can use any number of substitutions in order to provide the intended connotation. See #chicksinger #ladycop #shedevil for details.

De-emphasizing gender in society is a coming and welcome trend, and referencing gender in any kind of qualifying context is very last year. You see it in retail, you see it in product design and in a lot of marketing, and I enthusiastically recommend adapting to rather than fighting this trend. For instance, stop saying "female attorney." She's your attorney.

These interdictions against the creep of poor usage are a fool's errand, but I believe them to be worth a try. Moderate preservationists like me get twenty fingers or toes in the dike at a time, and still plenty slips through, much of which I consider fine. But some of these leaks I don’t much care for at all. And this is one. Woman lawyer. It can't happen. It's not okay.

So really, we’ve covered two items here, and in the interest of full disclosure, its source was first the grammar part, and then my fiancé clued me in on the sexist component of the usage in general. Slicing through flesh and bone and directly into my nervous system, the adjectival use of “woman” ran me up a wall with a teeth-chattering, mind-numbing electric shock. And later on, the sexist nature of gratuitously applying an irrelevant qualifier was impressed upon me by my fiancé.

I do not claim to be the sole arbiter of quality for non-words that become words, or poor usage that becomes accepted usage, but I am entitled to an opinion, and some of the recent trends, like this one, do not merit inclusion in our great English language, and we should stop it now, that is if it’s not already too late.