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Old February 6th, 2003, 10:03 PM   #4
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Join Date: Feb 2001
Posts: 1,159
This topic caught my attention because in the past two days, terms used to refer to males and females have been an issue in the college freshman writing class that I teach.

My students are currently working on paragraphs in which they begin with an inference about a person who they go on to describe. Today, they took turns writing their topic sentences on the board. As they did, they used the words "woman" and "lady" interchangeably. A discussion ensued, during which it became increasingly clear to me that their connotations for these words depended entirely on their own age and heritage. That is, not on the female whom they were describing. Younger students referred to older women as "ladies." Older students referred to older women as "women."

I live in southern California. Roughly 10% of any class I teach is composed of native English speakers. Non-native speakers prefer the word "lady" because they see it as a term of respect, while native speakers see it as actually disparaging. But trying to explain these perceptions to one another became comical.

My students used the terms "male" and "female" only when they were also identifying someone by their role, as in "male student" or "female professor."

Truth be told, when they referred to men, young men, or boys, they used the term "guy." Imagine the conversation about that term.
We must travel in the direction of our fear. --John Berryman
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