Is It OK to Use 'Female' as a Noun?
Your English teacher may have acted as though language is a static thing, with a vocabulary fixed at the moment you entered first grade and grammar rules written in stone. But language is actually a pretty fluid thing. It evolves – much the same way as a living creature does.
We add new words. Old words take on new meanings. Sometimes a word even takes on a new function so that it belongs to more than one part of speech.
So while the English language was pretty much established by the 1500s, gazillions of words like ' selfie ' and ' vape ' have snuck into English faster than the members of the Red Pen Brigade can cross them out.
Those of use who feel strongly about the English language may be fascinated with the addition of new expressions like ' digital footprint' or ' keyboard warrior .' But that doesn't mean we have to be happy about people creating words like ' mahoosive ' when our language already had adjectives that express that meaning, nor with reducing a perfectly good word down to ' xlnt .'
Dictionaries Aren't Prescriptive
Sadly, dictionaries and grammars aren't really the rule books your English teacher made them out to be. They aren't so much an attempt to preserve the Queen's English is a form Her Majesty would recognize, as they are a description of our language today. (I'm still not sure whether I should thank lexicographer Erin McKean for teaching me that. I have to admit that when the realization hit I was pretty devastated!)
There's an interesting side effect to accepting that we as a people define the dictionary, rather than the lexicographers telling us what we can and cannot say. You see, each of us now has to take responsibility for how we use the English language. Each person who uses an expression like ' jel ' or ' YOLO ' is responsible for these expressions finding their way onto the hallowed pages of Webster's or the Oxford English Dictionary. Just sayin'!
'Female' as a Noun
So let me get to the meat of this discussion: is it OK to use 'female' as a noun? In your writing bio should you describe yourself as “a 27 year old female” when “a twenty-something wife and mother” would do the job just as well? By the same token if you're writing a news piece, is it OK to relate that the “female” who caused a commotion in Staples had just seen a snake crawl out from under the printer inks display?
There actually is a history of using “female” as a noun rather than an adjective. But as the Grammar Girl points out it is a usage normally confined to animals other than humans, such as lab rats or pedigreed dogs.
Even historically when women were labelled “females,” it has been seen as derogatory. Think of the way “females” were discussed when we were fighting for admission to university or professions like law and medicine, or for universal suffrage.
Do you want to be seen that way? Do you want to contribute to society seeing all women that way? Please people, let's remember to talk about girls and women! Female as a noun should be reserved for lower animals.
If we're careful how we speak, one day the entry in the dictionary that says, “a female person : a woman or a girl,” will be marked “obsolete.” But only if we choose our words carefully today.
Note: This article is adapted from an earlier one that I had originally published on Bubblews
Image Credit » http://pixabay.com/en/sign-toilet-washroom-gender-symbol-26291/