17

Matt Errey at the "English Club" website suggests otherwise.

I can easily choose "young people" over "youth," but doing so might suggest I am doing it to increase word count.

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    Youth as a count noun referring to a young (male) person is somewhat pejorative and derogatory, so if you’re writing some kind of essay/article/academic text, I would suggest not using it at all. Young people is the natural phrasing, and no one would ever dream of associating its usage with an attempt to increase word count. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Oct 20 '16 at 10:25
  • If "youth" refers to young males specifically, I wonder is there an equivalent for young females? – N. Owad Oct 20 '16 at 12:48
  • Youngsters also is gender neutral. MW: Full Definition of youngster 1 a : a young person : youth b : child 2 : a young animal or plant especially of a domesticated or cultivated breed or type – K Dog Oct 20 '16 at 14:06
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    @N.Owad A youth or youths does not refer specifically to males it just implies it. It is usually used to refer to bored teenagers outside shops or on street corners up to mischief (who happen to be mostly male). – JamesRyan Oct 20 '16 at 15:17
  • This following version from the movie "My Cousin Vinny" (1992) refers to two "youths," who are both male. The actor pronounces the plural (countable) as "yutes." Written dialogue: imdb.com/title/tt0104952/quotes?item=qt0404568 and video: youtube.com/watch?v=HVjbf-dHjW0. – rajah9 Oct 20 '16 at 17:05
16

Oxford Dictionary of English defines the countable noun youth as 'a young man'; Collins English Dictionary defines it as 'a young person, especially a young man or boy'; Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary defines it as 'a young person, especially a young male between adolescence and maturity'; American Heritage Dictionary defines it as 'a young person, especially a young male in late adolescence'.

This probably happened because the countable noun youth was used mostly to refer to males at the time the lexicographers composed the definitions. Indeed, you can use it to refer to both males and females, given that three of the four definitions cited here allow for it, using only the qualifier especially and not exclusively.

  • This comparison of dictionary definitions is certainly beyond a general reference answer. It is also instructive that questions or answers beginning 'The dictionary says ...' should be treated very warily, if not dismissively. // Have you a reference to what I usually refer to as 'ODO' is actually named [The] 'Oxford Dictionary of English' by the editors? All I can find is 'Oxford Dictionaries' for 'not the OED'; it seems an unnecessarily ambiguous choice of title (polysemy-with-hypernymy). – Edwin Ashworth Oct 20 '16 at 10:51
  • @EdwinAshworth - Your comment prompted me to do some research. Both the OED and Oxford Dictionaries Online are published by the Oxford University Press. They are therefore clearly related, but I would not say they are the same thing. in fact, they have separate links on the OUP website (hover over "Dictionaries" to see). – AndyT Oct 20 '16 at 13:44
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    Here's a courtroom video showing the word being used FYI. Bonus regional accent included. – BruceWayne Oct 20 '16 at 13:50
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    @AndyT We often have to correct 'OED says ...'-type statements on ELU. The dictionary accessed say here is certainly not OED; all I am inquiring about is what OUP want us to call it. – Edwin Ashworth Oct 20 '16 at 14:34
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    Interesting. I'm not disputing anything you've said but, from a practical standpoint, I would never have thought "youths" had a male-dominated meaning. My usage (and that of those around me) does not hold this connotation. – Lightness Races with Monica Oct 21 '16 at 10:13
9

In sociology/social work, youth is a gender-neutral term referring to people in their teenage years (especially the late teenage years) and their early twenties. It is especially common in the phrases at-risk youth and homeless youth.

I spent some time writing about the child welfare system in a state where people were eligible for services up to age 21. I was encouraged to use children and youth as the collective term for the people served by this system. This frequently involved gender-neutral count usage (e.g., "about 9,000 children and youth are in out-of-home care").

Here are some examples of gender-neutral count usage from around the Internet, mostly with additional modifiers "at-risk" or "homeless" because they are easier to search for:

I don't know the extent of this usage - it seems clear to me that it is accepted in American social services, and is perhaps especially common in the Pacific Northwest. I do think the usage is not limited to social service clients and professionals. For example, most every episode of the Savage Lovecast, one of the top 20 podcasts on iTunes, mentions production help from a group of "tech-savvy at-risk youth". At least one member of this group is female and the term is sometimes explicitly numerated as in the last link in my list above.

Wiktionary gives a definition of youth as

(countable) A young person.

albeit without citation. The following definition is "A young man."

  • 1
    This answer does not, as far as I can see, address OP's question, which is about the count usage. (Or if the first sentence is meant to do so, it is a worry that 'In sociology/social work, youth is a gender-neutral term' is focusing too much on domain-specific usage where the domain overlaps enormously with the public domain. Are members of the public with whom the social services interact supposed to toe the in-house line rather than follow what their dictionaries say the most common usage is?) – Edwin Ashworth Oct 20 '16 at 22:43
  • I should clarify: In my experience children was still often used alone, but children and youth was encouraged by advocacy and service organizations representing or serving these youth---the youth felt excluded when children was used alone. So no, the social service professionals were not imposing an in-house rule on the public they serve; rather, they were responding to their public's request. – Gregor - reinstate Monica Oct 20 '16 at 23:08
  • As far as count usage, youth is being treated as grammatically equivalent to children in these settings, thus countable. – Gregor - reinstate Monica Oct 20 '16 at 23:10
  • As far as "what their dictionaries say the most common usage is" goes---this is my first day on this particular Stack Exchange, so perhaps I'm making a faux pas---but I assume dictionaries often lag well behind "the most common usage". – Gregor - reinstate Monica Oct 20 '16 at 23:13
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    @EdwinAshworth "an at-risk youth" implies countability and in this example is genderless. 1 youth, 5 youths, 1 child, 5 children. – JamesRyan Oct 21 '16 at 11:48
0

In British English "youth" certainly has the implication of "male," and often also "badly behaved" and/or "poorly educated.". Hence the humorous (or derogatory) spelling "yoof" (https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/yoof)

As one-word alternatives, you could consider "juveniles," "adolescents, or "teenagers" instead of "youths". Those words are all gender-neutral.

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    Must be British English specific. Youth has pretty much lost gender connotation in American English. – ohwilleke Oct 21 '16 at 6:04
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    I think "youth" only connotes "male" indirectly in British English. If we take it to mean "badly behaved and/or poorly educated young person", none of those individual terms suggests male. I would suggest that "youth" is just as gender-neutral as "train driver": the word is more commonly applied to males but doesn't directly imply maleness. – David Richerby Oct 21 '16 at 10:44
  • I'll agree with @DavidRicherby, but further it by saying that context matters. "Three youths attacked the old lady as she left the shop" - I would assume male. "Youths today drink less alcohol than their parents did in their younger days" - I would assume genderless. – AndyT Oct 21 '16 at 11:07
  • @AndyT But it's the attacking that makes you assume male, not the use of the word "youth". In other words, if you're in a context that makes you assume male, you assume male -- that's all coming from the context. – David Richerby Oct 21 '16 at 11:10

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