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Is it "thousands of postmen and women" or "thousands of postmen and -women"? Is the use of a hyphen correct in the latter case?

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3 Answers 3

Both versions (with and without the hyphen) are fine, meaning they both conform to common usage.

Incidentally, I assume “thousands of postmen and -women” is intended to avoid offending female postal employees. It may be well worth your time to discover whether it might have the reverse effect. This is a complex issue. See the question titled “Gender-neutral Forms”.

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Using the hyphen would traditionally be appropriate there, though it strikes me as old-fashioned. The BBC's website, for example, regularly uses "postmen and women" without a hyphen. Of course, this is somewhat ambiguous, as it could be taken to mean the same as "thousands of women and postmen". Context usually shows what is meant, but the hyphen certainly removes all doubt.

If you wanted an alternative that avoids the hyphen problem, you could replace -women with the full word ("thousands of postmen and postwomen") or use a term that includes both categories ("thousands of postal workers", or in U.S. English "thousands of mail carriers").

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Or, you could simply say, "thousands of postmen", since "postman" can mean "a mail carrier" without necessarily implying "a male mail carrier." –  J.R. Nov 19 '12 at 10:57
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Aren't we supposed to say postpersons these days? –  Barrie England Nov 19 '12 at 11:11
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Yeah, postpersons or mailcarriers are both gender-free. Postmen is not gender-neutral in this feminist era, even though it pretended to be 50 years ago and earlier. I always took the masculine pronoun as male-specific and never neutral until I was told to maintain that double-standard fiction, by which time it was too late. [NB: I'm not a feminist and dislike PC language, but I am sympathetic in this case because the feminists are right about this one -- maybe only this one, though, IMHO]. –  user21497 Nov 19 '12 at 11:36
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Sorry, I just re-read this. As @BillFranke said quite a bit earlier mail carrier is better than postal carrier. In the U.S., I have never heard "postpersons". There is nothing pejorative or political e.g. Comrade! about "postal worker" but "mail carrier" is an easier term in many ways. –  Feral Oink Nov 19 '12 at 15:01
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@FeralOink: "mailcarriers" doesn't work in British English, where "postal workers" would be the commonest gender-neutral term, so it just depends on the OP's audience. But I take your point - a "postal worker" could also refer to someone who works in the office, not just to someone who carries the post, so "mailcarrier" feels less ambiguous. –  Berthilde Nov 19 '12 at 16:02

Perhaps I'm being hypersensitive, but it seems to me there's something inherently sexist in constructions explicitly stating that "postal delivery workers" includes both men and women.

I know that in the UK they actually call themselves posties, but I must admit I'm intrigued by Google's definition in that link...

A mail carrier, mailman (US) or postman/postwoman (UK)

...which seems to imply either that mailman is considered "unisex", or that all American delivery staff are men.

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Posties sounds like a digestive biscuit. Crunchy. But if they self-describe as such, there is no harm done. –  Feral Oink Nov 19 '12 at 19:57

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