1

I hope this is not ridiculous to ask (and I will try to focus on a question, rather than discussion) but have I missed something regarding the use of the word women to refer to a single person? I have noted of late in reading news articles on respectable sites (like bbc news of all places, where one might expect them to be good with English) increasing occurrences of the word "women" when the context suggests one person. Example here:

"[...] let out hearty cheers and one women jumped to her feet, clapping her hands. The feeling in the auditorium was friendly."

or

"Those allegations involving hitting; one women claimed she’d been choked in the stairwell."

As two relatively recent examples. Did I miss something in connotative usage? Or is this somehow just becoming a common mistake that I hadn't noticed so much before?

  • 1
    It's just a typo. For cost reasons, there is less sub-editing in today's newsrooms than there used to be. – Erik Kowal Jan 8 '15 at 23:32
  • 3
    @Josh61 - But those (few) Ngram hits could also be the result of typos. There really is no situation in which one would refer non-barbarously to 'one women'. – Erik Kowal Jan 8 '15 at 23:45
  • 1
    It appears to be a common mistake: The singular “woman” probably gets mixed up with the plural “women” because although both are spelled with an O in the first syllable; only the pronunciation of the O really differentiates them. Just remember that this word is treated no differently than “man” (one person) and “men” (more than one person). A woman is a woman—never a women.public.wsu.edu/~brians/errors/woman.html – user66974 Jan 8 '15 at 23:45
  • 1
    @ErikKowal - I am not suggesting that they are a correct usage of 'women', but just a common mistake. – user66974 Jan 8 '15 at 23:48
  • 1
    It isn't really that surprising that people get this one wrong. Where else do you have a word that forms its plural by vowel change in one syllable, but indicates this in writing by changing the vowel in another syllable? Imagine if the plural of footman was pronounced the same as it really is (‘footmen’), but spelled feetman. Women is just as crazy, really, only the other way around. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jan 9 '15 at 0:23
3

Here is an Ngram chart for the years 1800–2000, tracking the relative frequency of instances of "one women" (blue line) and "many woman" (red line):

The trend looks positively alarming, until you match instances of "one women" (blue line) and "one woman" (red line):

It's true that the numbers for "one women" still aren't quite flatlining at zero percent, but the difference in frequency between that oddball spelling and the truly common "one woman" should be at least somewhat reassuring.

Further solace may be gleaned from the fact that Google Books search results very significantly overstate the typo problem, in several ways. For example, the Google Books scanner reads the phrase "twenty-one women" as an instance of "one women" because it doesn't know how to interpret hyphens properly: Reading hyphens as alphanumeric characters would lead to reports of hundreds of thousands of hyphenated words where there are really only word breaks between syllables at the end of lines of text. So the OCR scanner reads end-of-line hyphens as signals to close up the word straddling the line break, and it replaces hyphens that appear in the midst of lines of text with line spaces, which renders "twenty-one women" as "twenty one women"—a match for "one women."

Similarly, hyphenated compounds in which "women" is the first element lose their hyphen and sometimes produce false positives. For example, a Google Books scan of the sentences (from an 1808 magazine article)

Over this [room in Salisbury Gaol] are two rooms (to which the ascent is by a stone stair case from the court-yard) set apart for infirmaries ; they also have fire-places, but were equally dirty as the former, and filled with lumber. In the smaller one women-debtors are confined.

interprets the second sentence as providing a match for "one women."

Another major source of false alarms involves abutting sentences in which the first ends with one and the second begins with Women. For example, from Scott & Scott, One Half the People: The Fight for Woman Suffrage (1982),

The line of argument is a familiar one. Women have not succeeded in cleaning up politics, reforming society or ending wars, therefore suffrage is a failure.

Google Books again finds a match for "one women."

And again, when the one is bound to an earlier phrase of the same sentence—as in the case of this sentence from Myres, Westering Women and the Frontier Experience, 1800–1915 (1982):

On those frontiers where men outnumbered women by ratios of five or six to one, women often lived for months without seeing another woman.

—"one women" is reported once more.

Then there are instances where a section number leads into a section title, and Google Books doesn't see the break, as in this instance from Wemple, Women in Frankish Society (1981):

PART ONE

Women in Secular Life

—another match.

Apostrophes pose another problem. Google's OCR scanner reads both this instance (from 1985)

One of the requirements of manhood in Bahia was that one be able to protect and control one's women.

and this one (also from 1985)

Only one women's service magazine does not accept cigarette advertising in the United States.

as matches for "one women."

There are even some instances where the Google OCR scanner does everything right, and finds and reports an instance of "one women" involving no intervening punctuation marks, and yet the occurrence turns out to be grammatically correct anyway—as in this case from Rowe, Women's Issues (1986):

It's a simple question, and one women often easily overlook.

As a result of all of these complicating factors, a large majority of the Google Books matches for "one women" are not typos for "one woman" at all, as you can confirm for yourself by scrolling through some of the "Search in Google Books" listings beneath the Ngram viewer graph for "one women" vs. "many woman."

That's not to say that instances of "one women" as a typo aren't increasing in published work: They are, especially as copy editors and proofreaders leave the industry in cost-cutting moves at more and more publishing houses. But the scope of the problem is easy to exaggerate; and at least for the time being, "one women" does not appear to be on a path to legitimacy as a straight-up alternative to "one woman."

  • Google books is useless for this sort of thing. Trawl through the comments at YouTube, bla, bla forums, and pre-college students' assignments to see how many misspell women. It is becoming an increasingly common orthographical error, one not only dictated by laziness but, ahem, a mistake guided by ignorance. – Mari-Lou A Apr 6 '15 at 5:50
  • 1
    @Mari-LouA: I think that part of the very real decline in unedited spelling is attributable to widespread dependence on computer spelling-checkers to identify mistakes—which, of course, they don't do when the typo yields a different legitimate word. Spelling also seems to be somewhat less of a focus in primary (and secondary) school than it used to be. – Sven Yargs Apr 6 '15 at 5:56
  • Very good observation, spell-checkers are probably the single largest factor responsible. But I don't see man being misspelled... EDIT previous comment refers to woman being misspelled or confused with women :) – Mari-Lou A Apr 6 '15 at 6:10
  • I also think that the experience of posting to an online world—where (theoretically) any error that you notice or that someone else points out to you after the fact can be corrected later—creates a sense that what goes up isn't final, is in fact infinitely correctable, which seriously undercuts the value of avoiding typos and other fluffs at the outset. I know that I do a much sloppier job of proofreading my answers here than I do when preparing things I've written for print. It's just human nature, I guess. – Sven Yargs Apr 6 '15 at 6:13
-1

I have noticed this, and it absolutely drives me crazy!! I think this has happened because 1 of 2 reasons or both.

1.) It has been written incorrectly so many times (either by error or intentionally), that it has become accepted as the proper way to write it. You can read the Huffington Post and find the error in multiple articles on a daily basis it seems.

2.) It has almost become a fad to write it incorrectly on purpose. I read sports message boards (primarily college kids who are in school everyday), and it has become so common to see "a women" when talking about a single person that I take the time to applaud someone when the word is used correctly. There wouldn't be enough time in the day to point out each instance when it is used improperly.

  • 2
    If you could quote and/or provide a few links, even scan a few handwritten examples, I'll upvote! – Mari-Lou A Apr 6 '15 at 6:12
-1

I detest this now very common error even more than I hate "should of/could of/would of" !!!

Having lived quite a number of decades on this planet (in England, where English spellings, grammar and pronunciations used to be taught in schools), I have met an alarming number of people who are, sadly, genuinely STUPID... Please feel free to correct any grammatical errors/word usage on my part, as I am keen to get things absolutely right

  • 2
    Your response reads much more like a comment (about your dislike of the phenomenon that the poster asks about) than an answer to the poster's underlying question, which is whether "one women" has become a real-world form of expression. Once you have accumulated 50 reputation points at English Language & Usage (by posting upvoted questions and answers on the site), you will be able to post comments (like this one) beneath any question or answer on the site. But please do not use answer boxes to post comments. – Sven Yargs Apr 12 '18 at 7:17

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.