1

Traditionally, many professions have been known by terms ending in -man, presumably because they have often been overwhelmingly performed by men in the past. There are probably others but ones I can think of off the top of my head include:

  • Fisherman
  • Postman
  • Fireman
  • Policeman
  • Ombudsman
  • Barman
  • Cameraman
  • Chairman
  • Linesman

Which of these have become acceptable to use for both men and women? Which have different, gender-neutral terms which are now widely used? I know that policemen are now more commonly known as police officers but I'm not aware of any gender-neutral options for the others.

I'm primarily asking in a UK context but usage from other countries would be welcome too.

  • 4
    The Dark Lady would inform you that ombudsman is not like the others. – tchrist Dec 7 '16 at 13:15
  • 1
    To answer this, we need a complete list of all major occupations. There's no way to use induction or other methods, so enumeration is required for a legit answer. – Wayfaring Stranger Dec 7 '16 at 15:11
  • 1
    @Centaurus, "angler" (which I had forgotten about until Dan Bron mentioned it, but probably would have thought of had I actually been fishing and this more in the context, so to speak) or fisherman if I was speaking very automatically. But, if I was being a little introspective, I might have paused and said, knowing it was somewhat nonstandard, fisherwoman or -person. – Cary C Dec 7 '16 at 15:26
  • 2
    "presumably because...." Probably not. The -man element was originally gender neutral. The masculine term was wer(e), as in werewolf (the feminine form is wifwolf: wifman evolved into woman). That many (though not all) modern English speakers associate -man with men didn't change the origin of the terms. – user0721090601 Dec 7 '16 at 16:23
  • 5
    In American English, if the -man is stressed and pronounced /mæn/, like mailman, then it's masculine. If, on the other hand, the -man is unstressed and pronounced /mən/, like chairman, then it can be used for either sex. Many people follow this, but individuals often vary, since many English speakers haven't learned that pronunciation is different from spelling, and they may form variant rules, seeking "correctness" from what they learn, or don't learn, in school. – John Lawler Dec 7 '16 at 16:36
1

In a comment, John Lawler wrote

In American English, if the -man is stressed and pronounced /mæn/, like mailman, then it's masculine. If, on the other hand, the -man is unstressed and pronounced /mən/, like chairman, then it can be used for either sex. Many people follow this, but individuals often vary, since many English speakers haven't learned that pronunciation is different from spelling, and they may form variant rules, seeking "correctness" from what they learn, or don't learn, in school.

0

Well, for some of those, -person is in use, e.g. chairperson, but "fisherperson" sounds quite strange to me, though would obviously be understood (and possibly mocked). In other cases a different form is used: police officer, bartender, mail carrier. But, yeah, about half of those don't, to my knowledge, have a commonly used degendered version. – Cary C

For fisherman, see the question I linked above (fishers, fishermen and -women, or anglers, with some caveats). For the others, in AmE: postman = postal worker, fireman = firefighter, policeman = police officer, ombudsman = public advocate, barman = bartender, chairman = chair (in certain contexts) or chairperson, linesmen = repairmen (this is the official title in the telecommunications sense. I'm not familiar with the role in sports, not a sports guy). – Dan Bron

"presumably because...." Probably not. The -man element was originally gender neutral. The masculine term was wer(e), as in werewolf (the feminine form is wifwolf: wifman evolved into woman). That many (though not all) modern English speakers associate -man with men didn't change the origin of the terms. – guifa

Of potential interest:

http://english.stackexchange.com/q/247400/55623

http://english.stackexchange.com/questions/76147/gender-neutral-forms

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.