I've noticed in informal communication it's not uncommon to refer to a grown women as a 'girl'. For example:

  • "The girl on the phone said we needed to apply in person"
  • "I saw two men hitting on the same girl at the bar last night"
  • "Maybe the new girl they just hired can help, she use to do that at her old job"

I hear this often, I've even caught myself doing it on occasion. I don't like it because it feels less empowering of women, that grown men are referred to as men, but women are referred to with a term used for children. It's minor, but it's one of those tiny use of the language that perpetuate subconscious cultural stereotypes about the sexes in a manner that may not be favorable to women.

I'm looking for a word that could be used in the situations that 'girl' is often used today, but one that doesn't risk being dis-empowering as 'girl' could be.

I think part of the reason 'girl' is used instead of women is it's easier to say. girl is one syllable, women is two. It may seem minor, but when speaking quickly, especially about someone in passing, the faster 'girl' flows easier and doesn't slow the conversation as much. For that matter for some reason 'women' sounds slightly more formal to my ears, to the point that it could theoretically feel out of place in a particularly casual conversation.

Thus I'm hoping to find a word that is just one syllable and would fit in casual conversation well.

I've already thought of lass, but that's a very regional term and would feel odd used where I'm from, plus for some reason it doesn't feel any more empowering then women, for some reason I partially associate it with men using it in a more dismissive manner to refer to a women, though I don't know if that's a common connotation or just an odd association of my own.

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    If, as you surmise, the reason girl is used is because it is simply easier to say and doesn’t slow the conversation as much, then you should agree that it is not done in order to be dismissive. Therefore its being “dismissive” is only in the ear of some listeners who are looking for slights where none is intended.
    – Jim
    Commented Jun 7, 2017 at 15:52
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    @jim there is a difference between intent of language and effect of language. There are many many cases where innocent intent results in perpetuating negative stereotypes anyways. People don't mean any harm when they buy little girls pink dolls and little boys blue guns, but they still perpetuate sexual roles to what is acceptable to wear or enjoy for each sex which can be harmful. Calling someone in a wheelchair disabled may simply be an attempt to explain they have different needs, but there is a reason we have stopped using that term. 'Girl' is very minor, but it could still do harm.
    – dsollen
    Commented Jun 7, 2017 at 16:11
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    You are basically right. Interestingly enough, many modern women have reclaimed the word girl to express their empowered selves, as in Grammar Girl and self-descriptions like "I am a happy-go-lucky girl with an interest in Physics and flowers. I work as a scientist at NASA and grow orchids in my spare time" (completely fictional statement I devised to illustrate a common usage) You can google search 'woman synonyms' to get many words - some may suit your description. The best choice is 'woman'! Commented Jun 7, 2017 at 16:21
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    What's wrong with woman? Why do you need a single-syllable word?
    – Drew
    Commented Jun 7, 2017 at 17:22
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    Regarding taking offense, I think it's fair to refer to adult women as "girls" in any context where you'd refer to adult men as "boys". Still, some people will take offense at anything. Regardless of taking of offense, every culture has gender roles. The only way to get rid of them would be to exterminate the human race. Still, I think this is an excellent question: such a word would be useful to know. +1
    – Ben Kovitz
    Commented Jun 7, 2017 at 20:04

2 Answers 2


In reference to the OP, "Woman" would appear to be a suitable term. I don't believe it is pejorative unless you are addressing a woman directly.

Though it is not a single syllable term, perhaps you could use the word "lady". I don't think it is pejorative.

  • These suggestions are neither single-syllable, nor informal, though...
    – herisson
    Commented Jun 8, 2017 at 3:29
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    For now I'm accepting this as I don't mind Lady, it's not single sylable but it still feels like it flows slightly better then women. I resolve the right to select another answer if someone can think of something better, but i've waited long enough that I think it's unlikely a term that meets my stated requirements is going to be suggested.
    – dsollen
    Commented Jun 12, 2017 at 13:44
  • OP asked for a "single syllable informal word for women...", and you not only didn't offer a single syllable word (you offered two 2-syllable words), but you also suggested a word that the OP had already used in their own question... Commented Jun 27, 2017 at 20:36

Lass, perhaps - a girl or young woman.


  • Thank you for answering, but I already mentioned in the question that it didn't feel right to me as it's too regional etc.
    – dsollen
    Commented Jun 7, 2017 at 22:56
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    @dsollen - sorry should have read more carefully. My bad.
    – Dan
    Commented Jun 7, 2017 at 23:03

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