Ladies and Gentlemen

I noticed that Pseu subtitled her Post on Hand bags, (…one for ‘the girls’). She used quotation marks which to me, indicated that she was expressing caution when using that phrase to refer to the female members of this site. It made me think about the difference in the use of monikers as employed by the two sexes.

I am not sure where the responsibility for this lies, but it would seem to me that while there are plenty of terms by which one can refer to a male, there are relatively few which one can use to describe a female. What is more, those female forms are often considered by women to be patronising and/or insulting.

Consider, chap, fellow, fella, bloke, guy, oke (South African, as is ‘ou’.), lad, laddie, boys, men, geezer, gentlemen, gent, dude, mate. I am sure there are many more that others can think of. When addressing or speaking about members of the male sex, even adult men, use of any of these synonyms is very rarely considered insulting or patronising on their own. They would need a qualifier either in terms of tone or other descriptors to make them such. Generally speaking, if any adult male or female were to address one or more male adults, or indeed speak about them using any one of those terms it would not sound rude. The exception might be ‘boy’ in the singular, but in the plural, very few men would be angered, if one were to say, “come on boys, let’s go”. In fact all the words are largely affectionate and indicate a form of comradeship. Of course there are plenty of insulting terms for men too, but they are obviously intended as such; dick-head, for example.

On the other hand, look at the female equivalents: girls, ladies, lass, lassies, women, gals. Very soon one descends to glaringly patronising and demeaning, chick, honey, bint, bird, doll, shiela, petal, flower, peach, babe. There are not many names that are polite and few that are friendly. Even the use of girls or lassies can sound patronising while using ladies can sound too formal and is certainly limiting. Woman or women, just sounds brutally impersonal. There is no male equivalent of ‘gents’. After that the various forms become down right rude. Without going into any of them, we all know a few such expressions. Even then, the female insults are much worse than the male. To be called a dog, can almost be a compliment to a man.

So, I have some questions. Am I correct in my observations? If so, why is it do you suppose that the difference in number and meanings of synonyms for the two sexes exist?  How do women, individually and in a group, like to be addressed, other than by their names, when affection/companionship is being expressed. Am I confined to “Good morning ladies” or “come on ladies, let’s go”?

65 thoughts on “Ladies and Gentlemen”

  1. Sipu, my dear chap, Levent has a point; some gentlemen can be the most frightful cads and bounders when it comes to addressing the fair sex! 😉

  2. “Girls” is fine in Strine, but generally I agree with you Sipu.
    Oh, and “guys” is frequently used lady-to-ladies (or girl-to-girls), as in “Come on youse guys, lets go”, although a fellow or bloke would never use it that way.

  3. Interesting points. I would always use ‘women’ rather than ‘ladies’ as a general rule, but one can’t say ‘come on, women, let’s go’. Women themselves might use ‘girls’ in this context, irrespective of age.

    I think this matter derives from women’s historical role as outsiders, which meant that the labels attached to them (whether or not they were ‘ladies’ – related to both ‘rank’ and sexual morality) could be very important and affect their whole lives profoundly.

    Somewhat off topic, ‘lassie’ is in common use in this part of Ireland for a girl or young woman, and ‘gosson’ for a boy. The latter is from the Irish garsún … a borrowing from French (garcon).

  4. ‘Ladies’ (the appelation, not the convenience) is often used ironically. Like ‘gentlemen’ at closing time (as was).

  5. Interesting discussion, Sipu et al.
    In fact in my header I had intended ‘one for the girls’ to relate to ‘the girls’ I had been with in the following blog, but also made the point in the blog that I’m not sure how appropriate this term is for a group of nearly 50 year old wimin.

    One term my husband uses is chapesses, but this only works in certain situations. The Oz use of guys for either sex is also used in this household, having lived over there for a while a long time back.

    What’s the answer? Should we coin our own phrase?

  6. Pseu, I do think there ought to be genuine female equivalent to chaps. I challenge you to come up with one.

  7. While researching the request I came up with this:

    aviation blonde Featured Word

    noun

    * a girl who has dyed her hair blonde. Origin: this term is a play on words. Airplanes have flight data recorders, commonly referred to as “black boxes.” “Box” is slang for vagina. Hence, an “aviation blonde” is a girl with blonde hair, but with a “black box” (black pubic hair.)

    Yeah, she’s an aviation blonde. Her natural color is brown.

  8. Interesting blog, there are regional and class issues here too.

    In Wales where there is the principle of werin (folk) roughly interpreted as a form of egalitarianism, women are called ‘girl’ until they totter into the grave.
    Whereas in the USA ‘youse guys’ is in common parlance throughout for any gender, but is basically very common indeed!
    Interestingly higher class people do not use the term. One would never use it at the Garden Club say, it would always be ladies, not in an ironic way, but because most of them are, they rarely work, are devout Christians and devote themselves to good works in the community. In the deep South, these ladies would be addressed as ma’am, (just like the Queen here). It always amuses me that there is so much class consciousness in such an avowed classless society.

  9. Pseu :

    While researching the request I came up with this:

    aviation blonde Featured Word

    noun

    * a girl who has dyed her hair blonde. Origin: this term is a play on words. Airplanes have flight data recorders, commonly referred to as “black boxes.” “Box” is slang for vagina. Hence, an “aviation blonde” is a girl with blonde hair, but with a “black box” (black pubic hair.)

    Yeah, she’s an aviation blonde. Her natural color is brown.

    Love it, another great educational nugget to store in the old memory bank.
    Thank you. 🙂

  10. As a bird said to me once at a ‘do’ when I asked her, ‘where can I have a slash love’? She replied, ‘walk down the hall and you will see a door marked Gentlemen, take no notice, just walk right in’.

  11. Oh Puhleeeeeeese Pseu and Tocino,

    You both realise that the Black Box is bright dayglo orange don’t you?

    Therefore an ‘aviation blonde’ would have to be violently ginger below stairs to qualify.

  12. Aviation blonde, is a term I have not heard before. I like it but will use with caution. It makes an alternative to observing that a lady’s collars and cuffs do not match.

  13. Oh, does it have to be in the media library, Bearsy? I have deleted some of mine from the media library, but they still remain in the post. Furry just linked it directly from its source, or shall I go and read the FAQ’s?

  14. Trouble is, Araminta, Ferret didn’t link it directly from source. The url in his comment is http://bearsy.files.wordpress.com/2010/04/ginger-ad.jpg, but it doesn’t appear in the Media Library, attached or unattached (which is what I would expect it to be).

    I’m worried from a security point of view – and from an ‘understanding WordPress’ aspect.

    No need for you to worry, though. 🙂

  15. Hi Bearsy,

    In re Ferret’s ginger photo (which is, to be fair, a cracker).

    I could see it in Google Chrome. Then I pressed Ctrl + F5 and now I can’t. Can still see it in Firefox.

    My brain hurts!

  16. So, I discovered, Bearsy, when I had a look. I just assumed that was what Ferret did, but it wasn’t when I checked. How odd. I did take one of my photos (unattached)out of the library while ago, just to experiment, and it still appears in my earlier post.

    I will leave it in your capable hands, but I would be interested to know what happened. 🙂

  17. Oops; just checked and my photo has gone! Ignore the above, Bearsy. It was there when I checked shortly after I removed it but I probably did not refresh my browser of something similar.

  18. Thanks Bearsy. Sorry to have put you through this yet again. I will try harder.

    🙂

  19. Switched back to Chrome and it was there again. Still there, even after a quick CTRL + SHIFT + DEL etc.

    I am now going to go and lie down in a dark room.

  20. Hello again.
    I have been playing with Ferret’s trashed untitled post which he used to compose his comment, and in which the image was referenced.
    I have now permanently deleted the trashed post, but the picture is still visible in both Chrome and in IE, even after CTRL-F5.
    I am defeated and will e-mail WordPress. 😥

  21. Sipu – I think your observation is correct.

    Remembering back to a time when it was deemed ‘offensive’ to call a woman ‘a lady’ or one of the variations of ‘girl’, I’m inclined to think that almost of the terms now thought ‘patronising and demeaning’ were once seen as friendly and acceptable until some woman coldly looked down her nose and said ‘Don’t call me your ….’

  22. Bearsy, I note that the Barsteward is losing his techie grip. Is he due for a review soon?

  23. Nah – BarTender is working his nuts off on the Test & Evaluation site, trying out alternative templates. And some other techo stuff like domain names, CSS editing and so on.

  24. Boadicea, I once worked in the City with a lady who called everybody, darling, regardless of who they were or what their positions in the company. It might have been easy to take offence, “I am not your darling!” but it soon became obvious that as far as she was concerned ‘darling’ was a polite and friendly form of address. Any claims that it was offensive would have been malicious, as they certainly would not have been true. A few years ago, I read about a case of a worker who tried to sue her employer for calling her ‘love’. However, the court ruled that in that part of the country, I think it was the West Country, that it was a colloquialism and was not meant in a sexually patronising way. I suppose that is the point. A word is just a word, but it is the intentions behind the word that count. What is its use meant to convey? One can make the appellation, lady, offensive if the tone is right, or wrong.

  25. Sipu :

    A word is just a word, but it is the intentions behind the word that count. What is its use meant to convey? One can make the appellation, lady, offensive if the tone is right, or wrong.

    You’re right – especially about the tone in which something is said. But I also think that sometimes, as in the cases you cite, the ‘offence’ is solely in the head of the ‘offended’.

  26. Howzit Sipu

    I have just written “We’ve had brochures printed and will be manning information tables at local shopping centers” over on my autism post.

    Of course all the personnel at the information tables will be ladies! 🙂

  27. My mistake Bearsy,

    I deleted the post I used to turn the picture into HTML and somehow being an IT thicko deleted the picture from the meeja library too.

    My bad, no security issue. 😦

  28. Boa, yes! It’s in the mind of the listener so often. Yonks ago before phones announced the number/name of the caller, I got a call from my Ex. ‘Hello’, quoth I. ‘What do you mean, hello’?

  29. Hi Soutie, I have to admit I do think that this country, and no doubt others, is taking things too far with its insistence of the use of ‘person’ in place of the more practical suffix, ‘man’, as in chairperson, spokesperson etc. For a start chairman is one word and is therefore non sex specific. It is a common noun and is gender neutral. It can also be a proper noun, when it is a title as in Chairman Gates, head of Microsoft. Nobody other than his board has the the right to change that title to Chairperson, but the SA media insist on doing so. Personally, I think it demeans women that policy makers think they need that level of protection. It does nothing to help their cause but simply spoils the English language.

  30. Sipu – I agree one hundred percent.

    And while we’re about it can we have the return of words such as actress, poetess, authoress etc…

  31. Boacdicea, I was just thinking about the ‘ess’ suffix. Surely there are few words that conjure up the power and magnificence of the female form than ‘lioness’.

  32. I think what I object to with words like chairperson is that they signify – nothing. What was wrong with Chairman Sipu, and Chairwoman Boadicea?

    If the idea was to ‘protect’ women’s sensibilities (which I doubt) why did the feminine of words like actor have to go?

  33. It was the ones without willies who wished they had willies that started this ‘chairperson’ rubbish.

  34. I logged on to a slang dictionary to see what I could come up with and found that in order to find definitions for “woman” I had to designate whether the definition was for an “attractive woman” or an “unattractive or ugly woman.” I guess that proves Sipu’s argument.

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