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English gender comes unstuck in Spanish

It must be the pedant in me that made me explore the issue of gender-specific foreign words used in English this morning. The Guardian has a headline “Filipina identifies marine as assailant at rape trial of four Americans”.

The paper’s style book (yes, sadly, I have it on my Palm for instant reference) is clear in outlawing gender specific nouns with one stated exception, waitress, which is “acceptable — at least for the moment”.

Personally, I have nothing against gender-specific nouns which often give the reader extra information and clarity as in today’s headline. But if you have a style you should stick to it.

A search of the Guardian site brought up 82 instances of the use of “Filipina”. But as recently as June 27 the paper wrote about a “Filipino girlfriend”.

The sex of people is often important to readers, so should we be banning words like actress, poetess, policewoman and executrix?

When it comes to foreign words things are a little different given the English tendency to speak only one language. I suspect that most people here do not understand the Spanish difference between “o” and “a” endings which is not quite as simple as it looks. I am, after all, a periodista.

PS. The spell checker in my new Flock browser (very good) asked me to replace Filipina with Filipino.

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