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

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

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.


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

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

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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