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I'm a married male in my mid-thirties and meet a woman of a similar age and talk about business.

I want to refer to this meeting later, and it feels weird to say "I met a girl today...," (feels like it describes someone younger or it was romantic) or "I met a lady today..." (feels like it describes someone older.)

Is the best term just "I met a woman today..."?

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Since the sex is irrelevant, you could refer to them as a contact, colleague, associate, lead, potential client/employee or whatever the actual relationship is. Alternatively, if sex is relevant, you could leave P.C. nonsense aside, and use a term that best describes the type of woman you met. –  Jodrell Jul 21 at 16:21
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@Jodrell Gender is hardly irrelevant. As much as people want to deny it, men and women think differently and also think differently about each other. Knowing whether someone you will have to do business with is a man or woman before you meet them is a significant advantage in providing service that they will like. –  fredsbend Jul 21 at 19:54
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female The answer is in the question. Do I get a cookie? –  Parthian Shot Jul 21 at 21:40
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female? You can have a cookie but you should NEVER refer to someone as a female. Maybe ok for a dog. I say bring back "broad". –  user33333 Jul 21 at 21:55
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What's so bad about women that you need a euphemism for us? –  Jeanne Pindar Jul 22 at 12:43

7 Answers 7

up vote 60 down vote accepted

Depending on context, all three could be acceptable, with woman probably being the most neutral.

However, in all three cases, you seem to want to put emphasis on the fact she was a woman... if you met to talk about business, you could use a job-title.

You could refer to her (depending on the nature of your business relation and her job description) as a colleague, a designer, a manager, a developer, an investor, an analyst, etc.

Apart from professional relationships, you could simply go with someone, a person or an individual, as Qaz notes in the comment.

I think the most neutral way to convey that you spoke to someone and she happened to be female would be something along the lines of:

I spoke to this analyst today, she gave me some very good insight in the business processes.

If you really want to emphasize that she was a notable person, I would suggest to go with woman:

I met this great woman today! Her insight in the business processes was amazing!

Although lady could be used as well - it can convey respect (for instance respect for her professional capabilities), rather than just age:

That lady I met today had some really good ideas about improving the business processes!

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You make a good point in noting that gender isn't essential here. I'll add "someone," "person," and "individual" to the list. –  Qaz Jul 21 at 12:27
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There is some historic baggage with lady, often associating the term with being ladylike. The term was often used to try to put women *in their place. In the mid 20th century, you might hear. Stop demonstrating. Be more ladylike! –  bib Jul 21 at 13:01
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Or no context: "I met (with) someone today, she told me The Hobbit was a terrible book." –  Little Big Bot Jul 21 at 14:15
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@bib Aye, a lot of women I know have described visceral class-based and gender-role-based objections to lady and have expressed a lack of identification with or sense of being included by expressions that use the word to try to refer to a group of adult women. –  SevenSidedDie Jul 21 at 21:05
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Rule of thumb for those who don't believe in unequal gender roles, is to use "lady" to refer to a woman only in a context where you would use "gentleman" to refer to a man. And rule of thumb for those conscious of class issues is to use either word only as a consequence of formality, not station. –  Steve Jessop Jul 21 at 22:26

I like this question, because I have often felt the same way.

The reason is that there is no word for a female that is quite like the word "guy". "Gal" is often paired with "guy" but "gal" is like a cowgirl or a country girl and is extremely informal, bordering on demeaning. On the other hand, you can use "guy" to refer to any male, any age, any position, without even a hint of connotation.

"I met a guy today..."

I think you have to go with "woman", even in circumstances where you would never say "man". Even though it's true that not mentioning gender circumvents the problem, it's a flaw of current usage that this option exists only for males. Maybe we should all start using the word "gal" and drive the awkwardness out of it!

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Guy always makes me think of someone who'd be best on a bonfire. (Apologies to all the Guys out there.) –  Jodrell Jul 21 at 16:25
    
Reading this answer made me think of Guys and Dolls... –  anaximander Jul 22 at 12:34

Being of female gender, I personally would prefer the designation suggested by the person who proposed, "I met a potential business contact today. She was around my age, and had keen thoughts on the ......." This conveys the important elements of the exchange, as in "...potential business contact..." and then adds an approximate age identifier, as in, "She was around my age..." and then adds an important element to identify what the speaker defines as her value to the business being discussed, "...(She) had keen thoughts on ....." This approach is clear, concise, and respectful.

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Seems ok to just use "someone" or the job title: "I've met somebody from their marketing department yesterday, she's completely incompetent and bullies her assistant". To the use of "guy": I more and more often hear girls/young women refer to each other as "guys" - "What you guys wanna drink?", etc. Could it be possible that in the near future "guy" becomes an asexual term?

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What you guys wanna drink is not English. –  tchrist Jul 22 at 14:14
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@tchrist Yes it is. It isn't "formal" English, but native English speakers would recognize it as (highly informal) English, therefore, it is. Descriptivists unite! –  neminem Jul 22 at 15:10
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I'm a native speaker, and I don't hesitate to say, "Hey, guys!" to a group if women, men, or both. Interestingly, however, "guy" in the singular is still strictly masculine, and I can't think of any time when I've heard, "the guys," referring to a group with women either. –  Qaz Jul 22 at 21:57

Well, depending on the persona you convey, in addition to the answers provided above, deliberate anachronism can be used, if used with finesse and an appropriate audience.

If you're funny, for instance, you may be able to sell "I met this dame, Watson, and I haven't been the same ever since," Or "dude, I was talking to this dudette..." It would of course be in the presentation, and whether you have a reputation for humor.

Even that aside, the way you roll the phrase is going to affect the interpretation. Saying "I met a lady" is awkward, but saying "a lady at the cafe..." rolls better. Saying "I met a woman" is also awkward, but "this woman I met..." is less so. Often, it simply boils down to what we're more used to hearing, and the ineffable cadence of poetry, and that too can affect the perception of propriety. The greats of poetry would likely be able to call someone simply "female" but in a way that would seem smacking only of admiration.

But... If you're looking for one single answer to be politically correct in a business setting regardless of presentation, and that specifically conveys gender, then you're going to have to use "woman" however awkward you may find it, or, you're going to have to re-examine your approach.

Think about what's really important here--what is the person to you? Is she really a woman, first and foremost? Based on the situation you described, probably not. From what I gather, to you she is currently a "business contact" or potentially so. You should lead with that, and then clarify her gender if you really feel it that important. Communicating information in order of importance is generally good practice in a business setting.

"I met a potential business contact today. She was around my age, and had keen thoughts on the widgets we sell."

Honestly I think this would be the best approach.

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To me, it says a lot that, when you explained the scenario to us, you used the word "woman", and not "girl" or "lady".

This strongly suggests to me that, coming from you, the word "woman" is more natural and less stilted that either of the other two choices. That's what I would go with.

As far as watching one's language to avoid giving offense, there are times when being tactful is helpful. On the other hand, trying to win the favor of people who make it a point to be habitually offended is a thankless exercise. This is one of those times when your own natural usage is the best guide.

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It’s hard to go wrong with a person or someone.

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