A person who does mathematics is a mathematician. I assume that this is a gender-neutral term. Are words ending with "-ist" gender-neutral? (typist, type theorist, and so on) Or should I write type theoretician?

This is a serious question. My mother tongue isn't English, and I can't tell. I am writing a math text and I do not want to alienate readers, since mathematics has a representation problem anyway.

  • 4
    Few words in English end with -iste and those that do are clear French borrowings such as arriviste or artiste or modiste without an implied gender even in French. When absorbed in English, such words lose the final e, but remain gender neutral.
    – Henry
    Commented Apr 12, 2023 at 20:21
  • 4
    @SvenYargs - I was intrigued by the use of 'barista' for male and female servers of coffee; the term has crept into British English. I had assumed (for no good reason) that it was Spanish, but have had to correct myself after finding that it is Italian in origin, and used natively in the singular about both (or all) genders. Non-Italians have been guilty of hypercorrection by inventing baristo. However, I gather the Italian plural is baristi for men (and where the gender is unknown or the group is mixed) and bariste for women. Commented Apr 12, 2023 at 20:22
  • 5
    @MichaelHarvey English is spectacularly bad in handling Italian words both in terms of gender and singular/plural. My favourite is bimbo (shortening of bambino so in Italian boy or child but not girl) which is pejorative slang in English for a certain kind of woman.
    – Henry
    Commented Apr 12, 2023 at 20:29
  • 2
    @MarcInManhattan recently in the UK it was used a lot as "Corbynista"
    – Tristan
    Commented Apr 13, 2023 at 11:00
  • 2
    Though only an exaple and not the main point of your question, in English 'typist' is a very common word and mean someone who uses a typewriter and would not be used at all for someone who studies type theory. As to a word/term for that, between theorist and theoretician there is no (little?) semantic difference. You should use what others in that field use (I think 'type theorist' occurs more often than 'type theoretician').
    – Mitch
    Commented Apr 13, 2023 at 19:08

2 Answers 2


Yes, these are gender-neutral. Check the definitions for a few of the professions ending in -ist, and there won't be any indication of gender:

dentist: a person qualified to treat the diseases and conditions that affect the teeth and gums, especially the repair and extraction of teeth and the insertion of artificial ones. (Oxford Languages)

scientist: a person who is studying or has expert knowledge of one or more of the natural or physical sciences. (Oxford Languages)

ophthalmologist: a specialist in the branch of medicine concerned with the study and treatment of disorders and diseases of the eye. (Oxford Languages)

typist: a person who is skilled in using a typewriter or computer keyboard, especially one who is employed for this purpose. (Oxford Languages)

Like these examples, none of the other '-ists' are gendered.

  • 5
    And although English distinguishes between artist and artiste, the two words do not carry an implicit gender distinction.
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented Apr 13, 2023 at 0:12
  • 4
    Yes, a lot of -er and -or agent nouns are/were (at least formerly) gender-distinct (actor/actress, waiter/waitress, even occasionally author/authoress) but -ist words don't seem to have ever had a gender distinction or alternative versions.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Apr 13, 2023 at 9:59

Yes, "-ist" is a gender-neutral ending. In general, English designations are not gendered. The primary exception to this is a designation ending in "-ess" ("waitress" vs male "waiter", "stewardess" vs "steward", and many royal designations including "countess" vs "count", "duchess" vs "duke", and, of course, "princess" vs "prince").

Notably, "-man" (commonly pronounced "mun" or "m'n"; phonemes are important when discussing etymology) is often also ungendered despite assumptions to the contrary. You can have a female "fireman" or a female "policeman", or so on. Female-branded terms for females such as "policewoman" and gender-neutral terms like "firefighter" also exist for those who prefer not to use the "-man" version, but there is nothing linguistically wrong with a female "fireman" (but there is something wrong with a male "policewoman").

  • 3
    Notably, language as it is spoken and understood is not so clearly divided. Jobs done by men sometimes got the -man suffix; I can't recall a single female-dominant job that ends in -man. The use of the -man suffix just reinforces that, and there's no way to escape the fact some part of your audience will here that. That is linguistically embedded in usage of -man forms.
    – prosfilaes
    Commented Apr 13, 2023 at 19:36
  • @prosfilaes women as a strong part of the workforce is a development that is less than 100 years old (in most parts of the world). There are no jobs that are traditionally female-dominant, because there is no traditional dominance for women in the workforce (dating back over a century). It's similar to the "every purple elephant can fly" fallacy.
    – Ertai87
    Commented Apr 13, 2023 at 19:54
  • 13
    @Ertai87 That's ridiculous. Women have been working as long as there have been people. "In the Victorian era domestic service was the second largest category of employment in England and Wales, after agricultural work." (Maid, Wikipedia) Speaking of which, women have been involved in agricultural work as long as humans have been doing agricultural work. The Wikipedia article Women in the workforce has much detail about 19th century women laborers. This comes from defining women's work as not work and ignoring women in the workforce.
    – prosfilaes
    Commented Apr 13, 2023 at 20:12
  • Comments have been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Before posting a comment below this one, please review the purposes of comments. Comments that do not request clarification or suggest improvements usually belong as an answer, on English Language & Usage Meta, or in English Language & Usage Chat. Comments continuing discussion may be removed.
    – Laurel
    Commented Apr 15, 2023 at 17:50
  • It might be a good idea to post a separate question and answer about words ending in "-man" and remove it from this answer, where it seems like a side point
    – herisson
    Commented Apr 16, 2023 at 1:23

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

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