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Wednesday, March 23rd, 2022 technology  research  practice

A Research Tip

  • Research & Writing

No, that isn’t a typo.

The spelling is deliberate, an attempt to decouple woman and women from that male-sounding second syllable. See this article, for example.

And indeed the Anglo-Saxon origins of the traditional spelling of the word are pretty sexist: woman (originally wifmane) is a combination of wife and man, as though heterosexual marriage were defining.

Womxn isn’t the first attempt to neutralise those gendered overtones. In the 1970s, some feminists started to refer to themselves as womyn or wimmin (the latter is also an old, regional English spelling of women).

More recently, we have seen Latinx as an inclusive substitute for Latino, Latina and Latino/a. (I also see folx for folks, which seems unncessary – what is objectionable about ks?)

Female would need to be revisited on the Latinx logic. The word derives from the Old French femele (or femelle), which in turn comes from the Latin femella and femina, but the –male ending arose in Middle English by association with the obviously masculine male.

Unlike Latinx (la-TEE-nex or LAT-in-ex), womxn is unpronounceable. It also may be unclear whether it refers to a single person or more than one, although the context should usually clarify that.

It’s doubtful we’ll see womxn in contractual or statutory drafting soon, but it may happen; the days of the masculine gender begin defined to include the feminine are not so far behind us.

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)

One comment on Womxn

  1. Lyn says:

    The vast majority of feminists I know absolutely reject womxn as a means to decouple the common word for adult female human from its masculine suffix (and ironically, when it is adopted, it’s most often by trans-identified men). A small number still use womyn, wimmin, and wombyn (looks awkward but pronounces the same), which actually makes the most sense if you’re intent on changing it, but most are still perfectly fine with plain ol’ woman/women. Life is complicated enough without the additional mental gymnastics of common words being changed to accommodate experimental identity-politics and without the consent or support of the vast majority of women it purports to represent.

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