Word Ways


Steven Cushing


One of the most important developments in the recent history of the English language has been the widespread elimination of the sexist suffix -man and its replacement with the sex-neutral suffix -person. Words such as chairman, mailman, milkman, German, and Doberman have been increasingly replaced in common used by such substitutes, respectively, as chairperson, mailperson, milkperson, Gerperson, and Doberperson, in an attempt to minimize offensive sexual connotation. This phenomenon has spread so generally throughout the language that it is now possible to discern the beginnings of a new stage of development in which the sexist connotations of -person itself have been recognized and attempts made to deal with it. This suffix, after all, contains the gender-biased syllable -son, which is certainly as deserving to replace this syllable with -child, but this was soon recognized by the politically sophisticated as being ageist, though whether it was anti-youth or anti-elder was never definitively determined. Finally, offspring gained acceptance as a more appropriate substitute. We thus see such words as chairpersoffspring, mailperoffspring, milkperoffspring, Gerperoffspring, and Doberperoffspring being used increasingly in the everyday vernacular, thereby entirely eliminating offensive sexual connotation and making the language easier to use and more pleasant to the eat.