Wordwatch Towers

A plain language guide to punctuation, grammar and writing well.

Ladies first? Not often

with 2 comments

English: Two inosculated (self-grafted) Crab t...

Two inosculated (self-grafted) Crab trees, called a Husband and Wife tree, Lynncraigs, Dalry, North Ayrshire

Look at this (just spotted in a local rag – but you’ll see similar stuff everywhere):

Husband and wife team, Jim and Eileen, provide design, print, display copying and finishing services to over 400 local businesses.

And so, here is the Wordwatching question du jour — why are males almost invariably mentioned first? If I had a pound for every time I read these male-first stock phrases unthinkingly banged out on keyboards everywhere, I would be a very rich woman indeed. As well as ‘husband and wife’ — as in the done-to-death phrase ‘husband and wife team’ — we have: ‘boys and girls; his and hers; man and wife; men and women; Mr and Mrs…’. I could go on, but I feel a headache starting.

Why can’t we shake things up a bit? A glass of bubbly all round on the day I pick up a newspaper and find a married couple described as a ‘wife and husband team’. Don’t bother polishing your best Champagne flute yet though, ‘cos I don’t think that day is coming any time soon.

Find out more about gender-neutral writing in ‘Am I allowed to say that?’



2 Responses

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  1. Wow, I honestly never even thought about this! I guess people are so used to saying things in this order. It just seems to flow naturally. I am going to deliberately start saying them in the opposite order, just to drive my family mad.


    11/11/2009 at 8:48 pm

    • Thanks, Kristi – I’m all for driving people a little mad when it comes to the way we use language! Best wishes


      11/11/2009 at 9:01 pm

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