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What is the unisex form of a word like fisherman? Do you have to use fisherman and fisherwoman separately, or is fisherperson acceptable? I couldn’t find a dictionary with the word …

In general, what do you do when a word does not have a unisex form?

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Rather than unisex, you'll have better luck in your search if you use gender-neutral. –  coleopterist Jul 27 '12 at 16:28
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I prefer "fisherbeing" to avoid excluding non-humans. –  Jay Jul 27 '12 at 17:37
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What's wrong with angler? –  Chris Nov 20 '12 at 2:04
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The gender-sensitive/ unisex concept to remember at all times is that man refers to human being, not male, in the context -- 'The Evolution of Man' does not exclude the feminine half of the species. –  Kris Nov 20 '12 at 5:38
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@Kris Except that it does, subliminally. –  Mynamite Apr 15 '13 at 20:48

4 Answers 4

up vote 17 down vote accepted

In the industry, the accepted term is fisherman, plural fishermen. There was a campaign in Canada to adopt the word fisher, but the women in the profession largely refused to have anything to do with it:

[F]ederal efforts to replace fisherman with fisher in government documents, coupled with a high-profile Supreme Court decision on native fishing rights, caused a riptide of dissent over what to call people who fish. To complicate matters, many women in the industry didn’t want their job title changed and insisted on being called fishermen.¹

There really is no general rule. Language evolves, and the evolution is primarily influenced by the people using the word, and different communities have different ways of thinking, so the solutions turn out to be different for different words.

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FWIW, I heard a female WNBA coach admonishing her female players to "Make sure you guard your man. We aren't playing zone defense here." –  Robusto Jul 27 '12 at 16:31
    
Nice answer. Definitely gives me something interesting to think about :) –  asymptotically Jul 27 '12 at 16:31
    
There's a WP page that provides a nice overview of this ... situation. –  coleopterist Jul 27 '12 at 16:35
    
@coleopterist Yes, I knew of chairperson, which is why this question came to mind :) –  asymptotically Jul 27 '12 at 16:38

Man has always been used in a gender-neutral way per Merriam-Webster. Until the arguably over-sensitive demands of feminism since the 1960s, words like fisherman or chairman were readily accepted as non-specific as to gender. As a result, the natural plural was the usual men. Continued use is therefore a matter of bravery!

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Indeed so! The OED’s very first sense of man is “A human being (irrespective of sex or age); = L. homo. In OE. the prevailing sense.” Just so, the nearest relative to genus Pan, the chimpanzees and bonobos, is genus Homo, best translated as just plain man, not as men and women. It’s like how an ombudsman can be a woman, or how in German “Mann sagt” doesn’t exclude women. If a husbandman is a farmer who tills the soil, they don’t turn into a *husbandwoman just because they’re female. (Don’t misstep to the wrong etymon on homosexual, though: it’s not all about men. :) –  tchrist Jul 27 '12 at 18:02
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It is true, but misleading, to say that "man" has always been used in a gender-neutral way. "Man" has been used in both a gender-neutral way and a gender-specific way since the late 13C when "wer" fell out of use. –  MετάEd Jul 27 '12 at 19:08
    
@MetaEd I am happy to accept the correction. –  Tony Balmforth Jul 27 '12 at 19:31
    
I heard someone say it this way once: "Remember, there are two kinds of man: there's male man, and female man." –  J.R. Jul 28 '12 at 5:00

I think the use of the word "Angler" would be appropriate.

an•gler (ˈæŋ glər)

n. 1. a person who fishes with a hook and line

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Angling is much more specific than fishing; I daresay most people who fish for a living do not do so by angling. –  Hellion Apr 15 '13 at 21:11

I don't think there’s a single definitive solution.

Most commonly, the suffix -men is used for the plural. The somewhat ungainly phrase “[term]men and women” (e.g., “fishermen and women”) can be used to make the inclusivity explicit.

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