Wordwatch Towers

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

The abominable spokesperson

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English: New York, New York. Newsroom of the N...

Newsroom of the New York Times newspaper.

I had to laugh as I read the following stricture in myFinancial Times Style Guide:

‘Spokesman’ and ‘spokeswoman’ are best avoided, ‘spokesperson’ is abominable.

Abominable? Meaning, says the Oxford Dictionary of English (ODE), ‘causing moral revulsion’. Really? That’s what the word ‘spokesperson’ does? To whom?

‘Spokesperson’ is defined in the ODE as ‘a neutral alternative to spokesman or spokeswoman’. No mention is made of the extent to which the word may or may not cause moral revulsion.

The Financial Times Style Guide ends its homily with the following:

If you can name a spokesman, do so.

What, even if he’s a woman?

And I’ve just read this in The New York Times‘ regular analysis of its own use of the English language:

We should avoid “spokesperson.”

I did some research in an effort to find out why the New York Times believes ‘spokesperson’ should be avoided, but failed. Perhaps, in this case, because the ‘spokesperson’ is obviously a woman? Doesn’t the paper approve of ‘spokeswoman’ either? I tried to find out, but have so far failed (the paper’s style guide is not available online).

Read Motivated Grammar‘s great post on this topic.

She’s so intolerant but he doesn’t suffer fools gladly

Trilling and shrieking

Top scientist or top female scientist?

Gratuitous modifiers — or the lady bus driver

Excitable and bubbly

Am I allowed to say that?


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