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Watch those gender-specific words

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Gender-specific words aren’t considered appropriate much anymore, says Mignon Fogarty at Quick and Dirty Tips. It’s especially important to avoid them in your business writing as much as possible—and to be aware of the exceptions. Here are some tips to keep them straight.

  • Consider male/female pairs. Award shows notwithstanding, it’s best to simply use “actor” when writing about people on the screen or stage. Use “standup” or “comic” to refer to people who tell jokes on­­stage, rather than “comedian/­comedienne.” Other pairs, such as “duke” and “duchess,” should be upheld as the masculine term is never used to refer to both men and women.
  • Understand use of heritage. Most style guides acknowledge the difference between “Latino” and “Latina,” and there seems to be less of a bias against the latter because of the use of gendered nouns in Spanish. In some cases the terms are preferred over “Hispanic,” although it’s best to confirm with the person you’re writing about when possible.
  • Avoid diminutives. Diminutives are the endings we put on words to make them sound smaller or more feminine, such as -ette in “majorette” and “-ess” in “waitress.” While there are some words with diminutive endings that have become standards, such as “suffragette,” try to avoid other uses.
  • Use ironic terms sparingly. Some writers may use “editrix,” editress,” “poetess” and even “aviatrix” to set a jocular or ironic tone, but if done poorly, it may come across as insulting or even ignorant. Be sure of your audience if you decide to use one of these terms for humor.

— Adapted from “‘Suffragette,’ ‘Editrix,’ ‘Actress,’ and Other Gender-Specific Nouns,” Mignon Fogarty, Quick and Dirty Tips.

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