Words men shouldn’t say to women: Michele A'Court

OPINION: Last week, Martin van Beynen tossed a hissy-cat amongst the pigeons when he argued there were words – specifically the sweary ones – that women shouldn't say.

The response was a fairly universal "Get f......" from women and linguists, with a side note of "yawn". On reflection, I'd have been prepared to make a deal: Men could have exclusive use of all the swear words if women could have exclusive use of all the rest.

Let's call that Option A.

It's not the first time a man has told women how to talk. Public records show people have been criticising women's voices – the timbre, the tone, the words chosen – ever since we tossed off our corsets in the 1870s, drew a deep breath and started expressing opinions.

It is likely this kind of gendered nonsense was happening even before records began – some caveman with a deep "ugh" probably bemoaned the higher pitched "ugh" of cavewomen in an effort to maintain monopoly of fireside discourse.

But I was curious to know what would happen if we turned the question around, so I visited my online watercooler on Sunday afternoon and asked women which words they thought men shouldn't use.

In general terms, it goes like this: Men don't like it when we use words that don't fit their prescribed image of who we should be – as in the "unladylike" swearing-like-a-sailor; whereas women don't like it when men use words that remark on our failure to fit that prescribed image. (We are "strident", for example, when they'd prefer us to be passive). 

Women also don't like it when men use words that diminish our status. ("Girl", if we are a grown human).

Here, then, is a handy list of words men shouldn't say.

NOUNS: Sweetie, dear, love, honey, chick (when in a business meeting). Also bitch, pussy, girly, ladies, girls (unless referring to actual children), slag, ho, prossy, nag, slut.

Ad Feedback

ADJECTIVES: Crazy, insane, mental, stuck-up, shrill, hysterical, uptight, bossy, strident, bitchy, nubile.

PHRASES: You're overreacting. What are you on about? Calm down. (Especially when used all together in the same breath). Also: "You're being emotional" and "You're being sensitive".

SENTENCES THAT BEGIN: "I'm not . . . But . . .", "Women are naturally" and then includes shrill, strident or bitchy. A sentence also should not begin "Look . . ." or especially, "Well, actually..." when the tone is condescension rather than a disagreement between equals. Same goes for, "In my experience..."

Men should also never begin a sentence with: "I consider myself a feminist, but . . .", nor end a sentence with "for a girl" or "like a girl".

PHRASES MEN SHOULD AVOID: "Biological fact", "That time of the month?", Not all men", or "She'll have the salad". And no-one should ever tell a woman she needs to smile.

I realise this is a comprehensive list.

It would take a fair amount of effort to filter these words and phrases out of your casual social interaction. Arguably more effort than it takes to not say the F-word.

In fact, it might involve a whole shift in attitude and require some self-examination – what we might have called "consciousness raising" back in the 1970s.

If that turns out to be too hard, we could always go back to Option A.

 - Stuff


Ad Feedback
special offers

Furry Friday: Screen stars

Ollie is a rescue dog from South Korea, where he spent the first four years of his life in a cage. Now, he loves to ...

Here's an all-widescreen collection of pets, full of spectacle and all in glorious Flufficolor.

Furry Friday: Let me out

Finally, another pair of great friends separated now by the Rainbow Bridge, Josie (left) and Brum. You get the feeling ...

For pets, windows and doors are both an obstacle and a portal to more fun.

Tiny dogs in a tiny house

It's a tiny house with a big couch - which is all Phoebe and Connor need.

OPINION: My dogs have gone from a big suburban home to an off-grid tiny house. What have they gained and lost?

daily fix



What do the stars have in store for you today?



Rev up your mind with our numbers game



Test your knowledge with our daily crossword

Ad Feedback