Wordwatch Towers

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

A female man

with 10 comments


Offside (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

From The Mail on Sunday today:

Sky sports presenters, Andy Gray and Richard Keys, were at the centre of a sexism row last night after they questioned whether a female linesman knew the offside rule…

Female linesman? Shouldn’t that just be ‘lineswoman’? Or am I getting a tad over-ambitious on the gender accuracy front? Just to demonstrate how ludicrous that description is, we can try reversing it: ‘male lineswoman’.

I’d explain the offside rule, but I’m kind of busy right now and anyway this is a grammar blog. You can read up on it here if you’ve really nothing better to do.

Related article

Girls or women?

Gratuitous modifiers or the lady bus driver

Top scientist or top female scientist? 

Marketing man — or woman?

He or she — or they?

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

She’s such a tomboy

Old wives’ tales — good or bad?

Ladies first?

Jack of all trades

Am I allowed to say that?


10 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Firstly, nice to see you blogging again.

    Secondly, I’m surprised that the Mail even used the term linesman. It’s an old-fashioned term. It was officially changed in 1996 by football’s authorities to referee’s assistant partly as the responsibilities connected with the role had changed with the modern game, but also to make it gender-neutral.


    24/01/2011 at 6:56 am

    • Hi, there — thanks for dropping by, lovely to see you here. And thanks also for your kind words. If I remember correctly, I think the caption beneath the picture of the lineswomanman described her as a ‘referee’s assistant’. I’m surprised they didn’t write, ‘lady referee’s assistant’.

      I may not have been blogging myself, but I always read your very funny posts.


      24/01/2011 at 7:19 am

  2. My reaction, which may not be grammatically correct, is to see “linesman” as a position not requiring gender distinction. Therefore, saying “female” is superfluous. This has become true of actors for example. We used to refer to actresses, but now if asked their profession most will say, “I’m an actor.”
    The “man” part of the label does make it confusing. As a result sometimes gender-neutral position titles gain usage, like saying “Representative” instead of “Congressman/Congresswoman”. Senator is already neutral, as would “MP” or “Minister” be for you.
    I don’t know how one would update those medieval gentry titles (Lord/Lady, Duke/Duchess, Baron/Baroness etc.) God save the Quing?

    Invisible Mikey

    24/01/2011 at 3:31 pm

    • Hi, Mikey! I’m very glad to see you here again.

      Yes, ‘female’ is certainly superfluous there. I still prefer the gender-neutral alternatives such as ‘assistant referee’, and another one I spotted today in the press, ‘league official’.

      ‘Actress’ is an interesting word. It’s been discussed here before. Somehow ‘actress’ sounds appropriate for a really glamorous Hollywood star: ‘actor’ sounds more pedestrian. ‘Quing’ made me laugh!

      Btw — I’m glad you’re blogging regularly again.


      24/01/2011 at 4:09 pm

  3. “Linesman” doesn’t bother me, just as “fireman” doesn’t bother me. By tortured replacements, you’re just highlighting the person’s sex instead of ignoring it. But the “line” part is critical: it’s what the person does, calling offsides and waving when the ball goes out of bounds.

    Michael Farrell

    25/01/2011 at 1:29 am

    • Oh, I don’t know – if I were one of those linesmen it would bother me to be called a ‘man’. Just as it would bother me to be called a ‘fireman’ if I were a firefighter. Calling a woman a man is ignoring the person’s sex. I don’t think the replacements are tortured; there’s nothing wrong with ‘lineswoman’ or, indeed, ‘referee’s assistant’. It’s not only what the person does, but who they are. Use of the generic male in our language does a huge disservice to women and helps to perpetuate the (sometimes wilful) lack of recognition of and respect for the role women play in public life and the extent of their contribution.


      25/01/2011 at 7:06 am

      • That’s what they’ve always been called, so, in the highly unlikely event you were ever tempted to be a linesman or fireman, you’d know going in what your job title would be. When you force someone–say, an announcer–unnaturally to shift between linesman and lineswoman, you’re only reinforcing awareness of gender, instead of ignoring it as irrelevant. Just as when someone talks about “America’s first black president” or “first lesbian justice”: Who cares, because it’s irrelevant.

        Michael Farrell

        25/01/2011 at 8:16 pm

        • I’ll have you know that I am often called away from my Sunday morning linesmanwoman duties at charity football matches to attend to small fires in the parish in my capacity as an unpaid volunteer lady fireman.

          That aside, the old ‘that’s the way things have always been done’ argument doesn’t quite pass the mustard. And what is wrong with awareness of gender? There is a difference between totally irrelevant and gratuitous references to someone’s sexuality and race (debatable in the case of Obama) and innacuracy (concomitant with disrespect and exclusion). Calling me a man is the equivalent of calling Obama white or the justice a heterosexual. I care and it’s relevant to me.


          25/01/2011 at 8:43 pm

  4. I’m very glad you’re back!
    I’m in “camp linewoman,” and I like actress better because it sounds pretty, lady, and duchess too. Speaking of words, at the sake of blowing my own horn, I’m about to be published on http://funnynotslutty.com . A few posts ago I did a day of my life if Jane Austen wrote it, so on a lark I submitted it and the site owner liked it, which is very gratifying. It’s kinda fun to regurgitate past posts and submit them to e-zines that don’t mind it was on my blog originally.

    Anyway, hope you’re doing well and I really missed Wordwatch and seeing you here.


    25/01/2011 at 3:29 am

    • Hi, Lisa – for some reason your comment got caught in the spam (for the first time) and I only just spotted it, so apologies for not publishing it straight away.

      I’m so pleased to hear about your stuff being accepted for publication – no more than it deserves. Congratulations.

      Thank you for your kind words, which I appreciate very much, and for stopping by. You’re always welcome, as you know.


      25/01/2011 at 5:30 pm

Your questions and comments are welcome.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: