Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

If sistren is the female equivalent of brethren, what is the female equivalent of fellow? Words usually paired are: guy/gal; man/woman; boy/girl; lad/lass; brethren/sistren; fraternity/sorority; but I have seen nothing for fellow.

share|improve this question
    
Related: What is a feminine version of 'guys'? –  Cerberus May 31 '11 at 14:26
1  
@Cerberus 'Dolls'! –  ESultanik Jun 6 '11 at 14:53
    
@ESultanik: Yeah, Mitch mentions that one as well in his question about guys, and it would be a fun word to use once in a while in a suitable group. –  Cerberus Jun 6 '11 at 15:08

8 Answers 8

According to Etymology Online, fellow has been:

Used familiarly since mid-15c. for "man, male person," but not etymologically masculine.

It would be perfectly acceptable to call a woman a fellow traveler, for instance.

A similarly toned word for a woman, but not related to fellow, might be simply lady, or woman, as in, "my dear lady...".

share|improve this answer

I think you could conceivably get away with using "fellow" for a woman. ("For she's a jolly good fellow!", although that may be limited to the context of the song.) If you want a word with the same sort of archaic feel as fellow, "chapess" might do the job, although it's both colloquial, and a neologism, as was as being more obviously paired with "chap".

share|improve this answer

Fellow in the context of an organization or group is gender neutral. Girl, woman or gal otherwise.

share|improve this answer

Either girl or gal, depending on age of the subject and the context, would carry about the same air of casualness as fellow.

You son is a cute little fellow. Your daughter is a cute little gal.

Who's that fellow over there? And who's the girl with him?

If she is stuck in the 1950's and calling her boyfriend her fellow, those words would work for what he would call her, too. If she is a fellow in the collegiate sense, she is of course a fellow.

Sorry, but I can't come up with a unique form of fellow that is not already paired with one of the others. I wonder if it's a holdover from the era when women were treated with more respect (in polite society, and in public, at least), and so there's a dearth of casual yet respectable words for women from that time. (I may be wrong about the use of fellow elsewhere, but in general I only hear older people using the word).

share|improve this answer

I have heard the expression "every fellow needs a filly". It's originally used to refer to a female horse but has a less common informal meaning that's comparable to fellow.

share|improve this answer
5  
I would not recommend using "filly" as a counterpart to fellow. Many women consider this derogative in a way that's related to "cow", "bitch", etc (although not quite as bad, it still comes over as condescending). –  Christi May 31 '11 at 14:42
    
Thanks. I wasn't aware of that connotation. I've never used the word myself. I usually end up rephrasing the sentence to avoid fellow/chap. –  Noufal Ibrahim May 31 '11 at 14:58

To treat only a special case, "a fellow of [some organization]" seems to be treated as fully gender neutral.

"She is a APS Fellow" is fine and simply carries the respect that comes with the position.

share|improve this answer

I have heard folks from a couple of generations back change the lyrics of the song for he's a jolly good fellow when singing it to a female (any age) to for she's a jolly good lassie

Based on that, lass or more informal lassie would be contenders.

share|improve this answer
    
I've more often heard "For she's a jolly good fellow". –  Andrew Leach May 1 at 8:31

The word you are looking for is "sheila"

N.B., this answer was edited.

share|improve this answer
2  
Not the best choice because lass is a regional word and in a different social register. And lassie could be taken as quite rude. And it only applies to young women. –  z7sg Ѫ May 31 '11 at 10:06
3  
And it reminds me of a dog :D –  Alenanno May 31 '11 at 11:31
2  
@Alenanno - "Woof, woof!" "What's that you say, Lassie? The English language has fallen down a hole?" "Woof, woof, woof!" "And both its legs are broken?" "Woof, woof!" "Good girl, Lassie! Let's go get it!" –  MT_Head Jun 6 '11 at 8:08
2  
It's worth leaving some indication that you've so thoroughly edited an answer just so that those coming along later are not confused by comments that seem to have no relation to the answer. –  dmckee Jun 6 '11 at 14:33
1  
Sheila would seem specifically Australian English to my [British] ears. –  Owen Blacker Jan 19 '12 at 21:32

protected by tchrist May 25 at 18:08

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality answers, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site.

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.