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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 '14 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 '14 at 23:10
  • Please see english.stackexchange.com/questions/30455/…. – Pockets May 25 '14 at 23:54
  • 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? – user53089 Dec 21 '14 at 6:17
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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 '14 at 23:45
  • I was long ago an angler, till I became a diver. – Brian Donovan May 25 '14 at 23:47
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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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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.

  • Wikipedia says: "It is a felony to assault or kill a federal law enforcement animal, and it is a crime in most states to assault or kill a police animal. Yet despite common belief, police dogs are not treated as police officers for the purpose of the law, and attacking a police dog is not punishable in the same manner as attacking a police officer. Though many police departments formally swear dogs in as police officers, this swearing-in is purely honorary, and carries no legal significance." – sumelic Mar 24 '17 at 4:13
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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 '14 at 23:16
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    -1 This is not an answer. Perhaps you could post it as a comment? – Jimi Oke May 26 '14 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 '14 at 2:55
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There is no such thing as policewoman, firewoman, journeywoman, businesswoman.
It's a masculine noun so it is businessman, Foreman, fireman etc. The word doesn't define the gender it defines the title. At work we never say forewoman. Yes she is a woman but the title is Forman because it's a masculine noun. Another good example is with the French language. La= Feminine Le= masculine.

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    English does not have gendered nouns the way languages such as French do; I'm afraid your rationale is incorrect. – Hellion Mar 24 '17 at 2:43

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