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"Milkman" is a gendered term. I realise that having milk delivered every morning stopped being common before gender-neutral language started to become popular, but still, there must have been female people with that job at some point, and I'm wondering if a gender-neutral term was ever in use at any point.

I'm looking for a gender neutral term, rather than a specifically female one.

The reason is that I want to use a milkman as an illustrative example in an academic paper, so an example sentence would be something like

Consider a _______ who has to deliver milk to n houses.

The idea of a milkman fits well with what I want to show, but I strive to make all my examples gender-neutral, so it bugs me that the term for this job is inherently gendered.

Words like courier or delivery driver won't work for me, because it's important that the thing being delivered is the same for every house, rather than an individual package with an address on it.

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  • It’s not necessarily the same for every house. Quantities and sizes may differ, and there’s always cream. How about a newspaper route?
    – Xanne
    Commented Oct 9, 2022 at 4:42
  • Also, the milkman picked up the empty glass bottles and returned them to the dairy to be reused. That’s part of the business model.
    – Xanne
    Commented Oct 9, 2022 at 4:59
  • @Xanne I'm old enough to remember those things, but I'm not one to let little details like that get in the way of a good mathematical story. A paper round might work instead, I suppose.
    – N. Virgo
    Commented Oct 9, 2022 at 7:19
  • The same applies to a newspaper round, doesn't it? You want a gender-neutral term for paperboy.
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Oct 9, 2022 at 8:18
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    @N.Virgo Because everyone uses it that way. No one is so hypersensitive as to make a fuss about it.
    – BillJ
    Commented Oct 9, 2022 at 13:06

5 Answers 5

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An informal word in use from my childhood was "Milko". The word was in use in Australia; I don't know about other parts of the world.

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    Milko is used in British English also (and New Zealand) for a milkman and OED has an example from The Daily Mail (London), from 1958. Although, the earliest citations are from Australian sources. OED also provides this earlier original sense for milko: "Chiefly British and Australian. (A milkman's call) indicating that milk is available". Nice word, upvoted.
    – ermanen
    Commented Oct 9, 2022 at 5:16
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    That works but the caveat must be "it's informal".
    – Greybeard
    Commented Oct 9, 2022 at 9:11
  • Aussie English has a ton of words ending in o. Like journo. What I wouldn't give to visit there!
    – Lambie
    Commented Oct 9, 2022 at 18:38
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An apt term is a milk deliverer and it is provided in Wikipedia's "Milk Delivery" article also:

Milk delivery is a delivery service dedicated to supplying milk. This service typically delivers milk in bottles or cartons directly to customers' homes. This service is performed by a milkman, milkwoman, or milk deliverer. (In contrast, a cowman or milkmaid tends to cows.)

Milkperson is a single word provided as nonstandard, rare by Wiktionary but it sounds rather awkward.

Milkie is listed in OED as an uncommon British slang word for a milkman or a milk-boy. Also (rarely): milk. The earliest citation is from 1886 per OED.

A thoughtful thought from Showerthoughts subreddit of Reddit:

"Milkman" doesn't have a gender-neutral counterpart because it stopped being a viable career before the gender neutral movement.

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  • In all my born days, I never saw (in a movie) a milkwoman. milkperson is frankly ridiculous. In fact, the entire exercise is anachronistic since there are no milkmen anymore anyway.
    – Lambie
    Commented Oct 10, 2022 at 17:33
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The traditional terms would have included milk seller and milk carrier. I'll focus on the first. OED, "milk, n.1 and adj.":

milk seller n.

1600 J. Pory tr. J. Leo Africanus Geogr. Hist. Afr. iii. 132 Next vnto them stand the milke-sellers.

1857 T. H. Lewin Let. 19 Nov. in Lewin Lett. (1909) II. v. 175 His companion is a milk-seller with..a brass vessel of milk in his hand.

1909 Daily Chron. 3 June 6/4 The dairy farmer, but more especially the milk seller, has already been prepared for drastic changes in the practice of his work.

1984 Pacific Affairs 57 151 This is an ethnographic and historical study of the village of Phulia Tola near Patna, populated almost entirely by Gowallas, traditionally cow-keepers and milk-sellers.

You can see the Library of Congress has titled an image of a "man on horseback carrying basket with containers of milk" a milk seller. Cornelis Dusart (1660-1704) has a piece titled "The Milk Seller" that features someone who travels around carrying milk. And, similarly, one can find advertisements and other texts written using the term, like this one from 1916 in The Dairy (Google Books), which mentions deliveries: enter image description here

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  • Is it still too early for eight maids a-milking? :)
    – tchrist
    Commented Oct 10, 2022 at 15:42
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For a gender-neutral term you can use "dairy supplier".

enter image description here

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  • Only problem is that a dairy supplier is not a milkman. thinkusadairy.org/applications/supplier-search/…
    – Jim
    Commented Oct 9, 2022 at 6:16
  • I agree. Actually there is no way out of this. People have to agree to use only gender neutral terms. Take for example "postman". If you are considering degendering "postman" or such similar words, there are many different ways to do that as evidenced in this answer ( english.stackexchange.com/a/76148/397404 ) and other answers to this question english.stackexchange.com/questions/76147/…
    – banuyayi
    Commented Oct 9, 2022 at 8:13
  • There is this nifty guide how to degender gendered words teenvogue.com/story/how-to-use-gender-neutral-words
    – banuyayi
    Commented Oct 9, 2022 at 8:17
  • I haven’t looked at the links but xxxx delivery person is the go-to in my experience. mail, milk, package, pizza…
    – Jim
    Commented Oct 9, 2022 at 8:30
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    I realise this is subjective but, in BE, I have never heard the phrase "dairy supplier" and I would assume that it mean someone who supplied milking machines. etc., and/or cattle food to dairies.
    – Greybeard
    Commented Oct 9, 2022 at 9:10
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I do not know if I am correct or not; however, I'm fairly certain that the etymology of the word "man" denotes any human being. Seen in "manslaughter" and I would assume "milkman" as well. I might also be completely politically incorrect, but the etymology seems to support my statement (maybe). If I am wrong please do inform me, because I would like to be proven correct or not

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  • It's possible, but I would need to see evidence that a woman selling or delivering milk was called a "milkman" unironically. Otherwise the OED definition clearly says that a milkman is "a man who sells or delivers milk," and that seems unambiguous. Commented Oct 10, 2022 at 15:25
  • If it can't be used for a group of women it's not gender neutral. "Man" isn't really ("she's one of the men who…" sounds mismatched to me), as do words like "maidenman" which hail from the Old English period when "-man" was truly gender neutral. Can you back up your suggestion with current usage? (See also etymological fallacy.)
    – Laurel
    Commented Oct 10, 2022 at 16:33

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