I began the previous post with a parenthetical slur on Americans (of which I am half-one), propping myself up on two creaky stereotypes:
- that Americans can’t (really) speak English, and
- that political correctness is in part to blame.
Specifically, the issue was which of these two words was correct in the specific context:
- Sex, or
Well, I thought I might regale you once again with the opinion of Johnny Grimond, our (The Economist‘s) doyen of usage and author of our official Style Guide, in which style quite often becomes a window into a very British, ironic and sophisticated worldview. Here is Johnny on the matter:
Gender is nowadays used in several ways. One is common in feminist writing, where the term has a technical meaning. “One is not born a woman, one becomes one,” argued Simone de Beauvoir: in other words, one chooses one’s gender. In such a context it would be absurd to use the word sex; the term must be gender. But, in using it thus, try to explain what you mean by it. Even feminists do not agree on a definition.
The primary use of gender, though, is in grammar, where it applies to words, not people. If someone is female, that is her sex, not her gender. (The gender of Mädchen, the German word for girl, is neuter, as is Weib, a wife or woman.) So do not use gender as a synonym for sex. Gender studies probably means feminism.
See also Political correctness
That said, I seem to remember reading somewhere–and I wish I knew where–that Sandra Day O’Connor started using gender instead of sex when she got to the Supreme Court, because she was worried that the word sex would conjure up all the wrong images in her (male) colleagues’ minds during deliberations.