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The Sex of Lex

9 February, 2012

A little while back, an emailer called Cate had a conundrum. A whim, really, that has the danger of becoming an obsession. So be warned, before you read any further.

Cate wants to know whether some words possess a certain gender-leaning. Relax, this is not wymyn’s business, a shesis to rewrite herstory, but a phonetic puzzle. Do some words feel more masculine, or feminine, due to their sound, and ‘mouth feel’ as Cate puts it.

Does such a thesis exist, or is this a fresh playground? Curiously, I recall reading that Mark Okrand created the Klingon language based on an extinct warrior class of Native American people. And languages like German and Arabic have a reptuation for aggro staccato – but what about English words? Are some more femme than homme?

Cate suggested gallant and cuckold as both having feminine qualities (which you might debate), while distaff does have a misleading blokey aura. Off the bat, I’d say cascade and worthwhile feel more womanly (is it the duplicated consonants), compared to the boyish pebble and upshot.

What’s happening here? Is there a poetic theory afoot? And given the puzzle, what words spring to your mind? Does the topic teem with codswallop (which has to be male, just like poppycock), or is there a vein of girlish verity?

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If you missed my riddle chat with Richard Fidler, then feel free to slurp the podcast at http://ab.co/1I9t1x5

Text-speak is creeping into Scrabble. Where do you sit?
OBVS I'm fine with it
Entrenched stuff - like LOL and OMG - but no more.
Words With Friends, maybe. Scrabble, no
Let the 'real' dictionaries decide first
Just the handy stuff, like FAQ and EUW
I mean, WTF?! No way
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