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I'm reading a news article about a male police officer and the author calls him a "policeman." This word seems unsophisticated to me, but is it still sexist if it refers to a man?

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Refers to a man? Wash your mouth out. –  Edwin Ashworth May 25 at 23:02
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That’s why some people say police officer, since police is itself a “plurale tantum”, something of a defective class with no singular, and so must be used attributively to get at a singular sense for it. –  tchrist May 25 at 23:10
    
    
How is it sexist? He is a man who works for the police - Policeman is a perfectly good term. If the officer was a woman and the article called her a policewoman, would that be sexist too? –  Lego Stormtroopr Dec 21 at 6:17

4 Answers 4

Yes it is gender-exclusive, but that need not always lead us to recoil in utter horror. “Stewards must always offer any pregnant passenger assistance with her luggage” is also gender-exclusive, but I will personally undertake to assuage the hurt feelings of any pregnant male passengers who feel affronted by the wording of this guideline.

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Speaking as a fisherperson, . . . –  Michael Owen Sartin May 25 at 23:45
    
I was long ago an angler, till I became a diver. –  Brian Donovan May 25 at 23:47

Policeman is quite common in reference to male police officers, and I do not think I would even notice it. For that matter, the corresponding form policewoman is not uncommon. For example, here are some recent uses in The New York Times:

Staring up at the steep and lifeless brown ridges looming over the valley, Gulzar Ahmad Dar, a boyish and chatty Kashmiri policeman, sighed at having drawn a short straw. [link]

As soon as my passport was stamped, a policewoman strode over, said she had a text message for me and, though I laughed at her scam, requested a tip. [link]

[…] a woman from Canada who says a handful of French policemen raped her in Paris in April. [link]

[…] he said that Muslims who were responsible for vandalizing police vehicles, damaging public property and attacking policewomen during a rally in 2011 “will not be spared”. [link]

As to whether this is “still sexist” — that seems very subjective to me, and depends greatly on the political and cultural context. You will need to decide for yourself how you feel about these usages.

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Another suggestion would be police officer as a more gender-neutral term.

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Indeed. I note that the question itself uses the phrase male police officer. –  ruakh May 25 at 23:16
    
-1 This is not an answer. Perhaps you could post it as a comment? –  Jimi Oke May 26 at 1:25
    
You are correct that 'police officer' is the term of the politically correct and policeman/policewoman are now considered retro and incorrect usage. –  Third News May 26 at 2:55

Several people have suggested the use of the term "police officer" but we must be careful not to create confusion with non-human police actors such as dogs and AI systems.

To be specific, a police canine is often given an officer rank. If it is attacked or bitten that is treated as an offense against a serving office.

We need to say "a canine police officer" or a "human police officer" to clarify our specific case. This will grow more important as AI officers are deployed more widely.

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