It's straightforward to refer to a "craftsperson" instead of a "craftsman" if one doesn't want to imply a gender. But "craftspersonship", "sportspersonship", and the like seem pretty cumbersome. Is there a more elegant alternative?

14 Answers 14

up vote 42 down vote accepted

You could simply drop the dressing and go with "craft". The word is already used this way, parallel to the word "skill". It is generally unambiguous whether one is using "craft" in the sense of a set of skills, or in the sense of the quantity of those skills one has developed.

Edit -- edge case:

For the use "fine craftsmanship", I like the earlier offering of "finely crafted".

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – tchrist Jun 12 '17 at 14:28

Yes, there is: realizing that "craftsmanship" is gender-neutral. People who think it is not should take it up with themselves, not the word.

If I see discrimination where there is none, the root of the problem is myself and not the language. It is also a textbook example of an etymological fallacy.

Craftsmanship implies "man" about as much as woman does.

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    This is the wrong place for a discussion. Here is the right place: meta.english.stackexchange.com/questions/5305/… – quant Nov 2 '14 at 3:51
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    You are a bigot, Mister Eric Wilson, and when the animals revolt you will be the first to go. ;P – J A Terroba Nov 3 '14 at 20:58
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    @RegDwight: I agree with your overall conclusion, but I think you dismiss the point more peremptorily than is justified — so for the record, I will give the argument for the other side. The “etymological fallacy” applies only when a compound is semantically opaque, or nearly so. Most -man compounds are not by any means opaque, and it’s been reasonably argued that in some cases, their use does reinforce gendered stereotypes; craftsman might well be such an example. “If I see discrimination where there is none” — none may be intended, but it may be caused/perpetuated nonetheless. [cont’d] – PLL Nov 3 '14 at 22:58
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    So in many cases, I believe it is worth trying to find alternatives for -man compounds; I don’t try to police how others speak, but I do consider this in choosing my own words. I agree in this case that craftsmanship doesn’t seem to retain any gendered connotations (going both on my own intuition, and corpus searches others have posted in comments). But I don’t think it’s such an open-and-shut case as this and some other answers suggest. – PLL Nov 3 '14 at 23:05
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    Speaking as a feminist, craftsmanship is fine and gender-neutral. Shall we change the word human too? – Anon343224user Nov 4 '14 at 11:02

It's already gender neutral.

It isn't and never was specifying male.

It's the root of the word. Linguistically it's traced back to an archaic word for human not the gender specific word for a male.

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    How is this any different or an improvement on RegDwight's answer, which was posted almost a day earlier? – Mari-Lou A Nov 1 '14 at 13:25
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    @Mari-LouA It's far less aggressive. RegDwigHt's is almost defensive. – fredsbend Nov 2 '14 at 15:58
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    @Mari-LouA it's shorter, talks about the root, and doesn't have any ego-stroking. i like this answer more. – ell Nov 3 '14 at 19:14
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    I've been provoked :), so here's my reply. "It's [craftsmanship] the root of the word. Linguistically it's [craftsmanship] traced back to an archaic word for human". Nowhere does user96135 mention man in his answer. Wiki: "The word [man] developed into Old English man, mann meaning primarily "adult male human". (Me) Old English is dated 5th-12th century. So it's also meant "male" for a very long time. RegDwight's answer is at least sound and logical. – Mari-Lou A Nov 4 '14 at 7:40

Consider the terms artisan and artisanal. From en.wiktionary, artisan means “A skilled manual worker who uses tools and machinery in a particular craft”, while artisanal has senses including “Of or pertaining to artisans or the work of artisans” and “Involving skilled work, with comparatively little reliance on machinery”.

As a parallel to the craftsman/craftsmanship or craftsperson/craftspersonship pairs mentioned in the question and in some answers, we have artisan/artisanship.

From en.wiktionary, artisanship means “The state or quality associated with being an artisan”; thus, it denotes working in a skilled manner.

Oxforddictionaries.com gives the following definition and two examples for artisanship:

Skill in a particular craft:
‘pieces of jewelry which testify to the high artisanship of these ancient people’
‘a heritage of exquisite artisanship’

Note: a pleasing and workable gender-neutral alternative to “sportsmanship” seems less available. Interestingly, Google ngrams for sportsmanship, sportswomanship, sportspersonship (or, more clearly, for sportswomanship,sportspersonship) shows that sportspersonship is used far more frequently than is sportswomanship.

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    I personally think that artisanship captures the sense perfectly, if you examine the examples cited (here and on Wiktionary). – Marc Oct 30 '14 at 5:49
  • Of course these words are very similar to "craftsmanship". Great suggestion. – Fattie Oct 30 '14 at 15:07
  • I dunno about you, but all the Arts whom I’ve ever met have always been guys. However, I must agree with you that -anal is gender neutral. :) – tchrist Nov 3 '14 at 23:36
  • Although of course -san is a japanese honorific suffix, clearly indicating the word's sinocentric bias. For shame! :p – Benubird Nov 4 '14 at 8:54
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    This answer needs more credit. I'd also like to offer a more reputable source: the oxford dictionary supports that artisanship and craftsmanship have the same meaning. – kadu Nov 4 '14 at 13:51

There are potentially infinite gender-neutral alternatives to craftsmanship.

You could say that an item was "well-crafted", or if you have to refer to the specific quality of its well-craftedness, then you could stay general with a word like "quality" or "artistry" or you could be more specific. If it was a car, you could talk about its "engineering" or its "design", etc. In other words, there should be a term associated with the specific craft.

While "craftsmanship" was never intended to be a gendered word, it does focus exclusively on the works of the human race. When you know the race that crafted a particular item.

Consider changing:

"All craftsmanship is of the finest quality."

to:

"All wares were crafted with the utmost skill."

or:

"This is good shit, esse."

Admittedly, the feel isn't quite the same, but if you keep at it, I'm sure you can assemble passable PC diction.

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    upvoted for "This is good shit, esse." – Jimmery Oct 31 '14 at 13:22
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    "Craftsentityship"? – Kevin Oct 31 '14 at 21:02
  • @Kevin That sounds doable. – Marty Oct 31 '14 at 22:08
  • Someone's not a fan of Dwarf Fortress... – Marty Nov 12 '14 at 15:03

I'm surprised I haven't seen handiwork yet. It connotes association with a craft and is short, tidy, and commonly used. Best of all, it does not identify with a gender.

  • Craftsmanship implies a trade and level of expertise and skill like building a handcrafted wooden table with a press gold leaf inlay, handiwork is what your mom says about the spice rack you made her. – user53089 Dec 21 '14 at 6:26
  • Does handiwork specifically refer to work done by hand? Craftsmanship has taken on a broader meaning, for instance software craftsmanship. – brianmearns Dec 20 '17 at 21:17
  • @brianmearns Like craftsmanship, handiwork has roots in work done by hand, but is not limited to that. Dictionary.com gives examples such as "In all of Mozart's music we discover the handiwork of a genius." Although Mozart's hands were involved, his mind was the primary actor. Also, "Besides, Savoir Beds guarantees the handiwork on these beds for 25 years, or 9,150 nights." Perhaps the beds were made by hand, but it's likely they were not. – GlennFromIowa Dec 21 '17 at 22:21

There is a substantial difference between the word 'craftsman' and the word 'craftsmanship.'

Let's look at some typical usage scenarios:

"He is a good craftsman." - sounds right.

"She is a good craftsman." - sounds wrong.

Clearly, these two show that there is an implied gender in the word.

However:

"Her work displays good craftsmanship."

"The carving's craftsmanship was obvious."

The word 'craftsmanship' applies not to a human as a label, but to an object or action in recognition of some property. It means that said work has some property that would indicate the work of a skilled craftsman. This could be seen as a very faint gender implication, but the abstract nature of it makes it rather negligible, and it is applied not to the target of the word, but to an idealized image of what a craftsman is like.

There are alternatives for sure, but there is no real need to replace it.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – tchrist Jun 12 '17 at 14:27

As @Marc suggested in a comment on @jwpat7 's answer, "artisanship" fits the bill quite nicely. "Artisan" is a gender-neutral term, and "artisanship" is defined in the OED as "Skill in a particular craft".

While it doesn't include the sub-definition that craftsmanship does ("The quality of design and work shown in something made by hand; artistry"), I think it's perfectly acceptable to use artisanship in the same way, i.e. "The necklace she made exhibits exquisite artisanship", and I think most audiences would understand the connotation to be the same (except without any potential gender bias).

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    Why are you burying the answer inside parentheses? The word that's based on art that is semantically parallel to craftsmanship is artistry. – Scott Oct 31 '14 at 16:31

Unless we have evidence of a very recent evolution of the word to be gender-biased, the dictionary entries below are evidence that craftsmanship is gender-neutral, and even species-neutral, in standard American English, and (given the lag/conservatism of dictionaries) has been for some years. (Note that this is not mere oversight, the same dictionaries are happy to point out when a word implies male or female.)

http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/craftsmanship

  1. Skill in a particular craft
  2. The quality of design and work shown in something made by hand; artistry:

http://www.thefreedictionary.com/craftsmanship

skill in an occupation or trade

http://www.macmillandictionary.com/us/dictionary/american/craftsmanship

  1. the skill involved in making something beautiful or practical using your hands.
  2. the beautiful or impressive quality of something that has been made using a lot of skill

The same is not true of sportsmanship which some dictionaries define in a gender-neutral way, but some connect to 'sportsman', which is commonly defined as a man or 'particularly' a man. However, the times they are a changin': a Google search for women's event sportsmanship shows 'sportsmanship' being widely and publicly used in a gender-neutral way, so the dictionaries just haven't caught up with current usage.

If there is a systematic way to deal with such words instead of case-by-case, I don't know it.

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    The dictionaries and style guides of my youth regarded man" and *he/him/his as gender-neutral in such sentences as "Man has left his mark on all the continental land-masses, including Antarctica". Many of us have become more sensitive to the implied male-orientation of this, which is why policemen have become police officers (just one example), despite the protests of the RegDwights of half a century ago. The word 'craftsmanship' appears to have slipped through the net. – tunny Nov 4 '14 at 8:20

artisanship - http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/artisanship

NOUN

Skill in a particular craft: pieces of jewelry which testify to the high artisanship of these ancient people a heritage of exquisite artisanship

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    If the question had been a single word request, this would be the accepted answer. Sorry @jwpat7, TLDR. – Mazura Nov 2 '14 at 2:12

In the interest of less prescriptivism and more variety, let's consider a few possible alternative suffixes to -manship that might work (personal favorites in bold):

  • itude (craftitude, sportitude, penitude)
  • osity (craftosity, sportosity, penosity)
  • iness (craftiness, sportiness, peniness)
  • ability (craftability, sportability, penability)
  • aciousness (craftaciousness, sportaciousness, penaciousness)
  • acity (craftacity, sportacity, penacity)

Feel free to add your own!

  • Best of the non-answers. I'm surprised I haven't heard sportitude from one of my daughter's sportacious friends. – Spike0xff Oct 31 '14 at 20:33
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    craftiness means something quite different from craftsmanship. – tobyink Nov 3 '14 at 8:08
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    @tobyink It's funny you sat that, as crafty originally merely meant skillful, and then specifically skillful in business dealings, and then became a kind of insult about said skills, and now means "something quite different." I say we take it back! – Kyle Hale Nov 3 '14 at 15:48

Given the degree of controversy about the -man- component of craftsmanship in the comments here, it seems worth looking for alternatives that a) remain centred on the craft aspect, b) avoid the likelihood of entanglements connected with sexual politics, and c) still sound reasonably natural and unforced.

Accordingly, I suggest these possible substitutes for craftsmanship:

Crafting skill, crafting ability and crafting virtuosity.

Similar solutions also work for the other terms the OP mentioned — for instance, for sportsmanship:

Sporting gallantry and sporting fairness;

and penmanship:

Skill with the pen, beautiful handwriting, skilful calligraphy and chirography.

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    All the dictionaries on my desk plus Google NGrams for his/her gallantry and gallant man/woman If it were even remotely gender neutral, we'd see, I dunno, something remotely resembling (and by remotely, I dunno, a 90-10 split) parity. But it skews virtually exclusively towards masculine uses, and not really improving, unlike his/her sportsmanship, where the feminine is quite attested and increasing in parity – guifa Oct 31 '14 at 20:53

Precision. Skill. Care. Depending on the context, I'm sure synonyms or near-synonyms can be found which dodge the issue.

If you feel the issue is worth dodging. Personally, I'd rather fix the interpretation of existing language. Some of my fraternity brothers are female, and we made a very deliberate decision to change the meaning of "brother" in this context rather than trying to create either a new term or separate-but-equal terminology.

Firstly - as it already says in the OP, it is completely and totally normal to talk about

craftswomen

It's utterly unsurprising and no more of a shock than "chairwoman" or "chairperson".

See the Facebook page: Celebration of Craftswomen

Using "google" type in craftswomen or craftsperson.

If you don't like the USA, or Berkeley, do not go there.

But it is stunningly unrealistic to not observe, or try to ignore, that "craftsman" is just one of many words, which can be censured in the modern "highly Politically Correct" milieu.


Further, the actual question at hand is, to rephrase:

"today in certain regions everyone says 'craftsperson' rather than the sexed word. No problem so far. But 'craftspersonship' is a bit long - what's an alternative"

This is actually a great question and it's unusual that everyone has completely ignored it!

Rhetorically speaking, next time you talk to a person—female—who has spent 25 years becoming a leading wooden boat builder, lithographer, or silversmith—and who happens to live in, say, northern California and chooses to use "non-sexed" words like humankind, craftsperson ... go ahead and give her an all-purpose explanation for why the non-sexed words movement is poorly-founded.

Again -- I (say) might 100% agree with the political position ("this non-sexed language business is a bad idea") but (A) the obvious has been pointed out by many people using the extreme examples of "n----" etc and (B) it's just not what the question is about.

And as well as all that, I actually have the answer to the question, Cai!

craftship

(or perhaps with two "s") works very well, and it's quite obvious you're shortening in the word for anti-sexed-language reasons.

Note that it already appears in some crappy dictionaries

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    This made up word is not a "more elegant alternative". Neither is this entire answer that eventually preports a word unciteable from any DICTIONARY. – Mazura Nov 2 '14 at 1:37
  • If you don't like the English language, do not use it. – J A Terroba Nov 3 '14 at 21:03
  • Suit yourself .. mon autre langues est mauvais .. Vous avez pas de prise de la nature du «sens» des mots en anglais. Vous êtes tombé sous le camion, de la plus puérile, risible, erreur: confondre les deux: lutilisation et de lautorité. Il suffit, lire l'introduction de l'OED. – Fattie Nov 4 '14 at 7:16
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    Instead of flagging RegDwight's answer, which is being silly. Where are the examples for craft(s)ship for example? Do American women artisans really prefer the term craftswoman or not? Evidence, facts, not only opinions. – Mari-Lou A Nov 4 '14 at 7:52
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    It's NOT being silly man - I really meant it. (A) it simply ignores the question (B) it's just a political statement against that socio-political movement. I love Reg, brother, but it's a fact. A well-known typical problem on these sites is person asks question Q, and people respond "oh, you don't want to do that!" Look at it this way dude: imagine the OP ws heavily prefaced: "LET'S ALL AGREE THAT antisex language is silly, OK? LET'S ALL AGREE TO THAT. GIVEN THAT, here's a question..." You with me, my main man?? – Fattie Nov 4 '14 at 8:06

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