Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Today's Writing Tip Is on Women Criminals

The other day I heard someone talking about women criminals. The term is awkward for two reasons: first, it's wrong because we want to use the adjective female instead of the word women. Second, it implies, however subtly, that criminals are men.

This is not a matter of political correctness but rather of accuracy. The same could be said for Jewish dentists or teenage mothers. Sometimes clarifying one's ethnicity or age is crucial to our story, but other times it's irrelevant and can seem patronizing, sexist, or racist. Female driver is a good one since it is often used in the pejorative.

Before you specify someone's race, gender, age, or disability, ask yourself if it's really necessary for the reader to know that the grocer is Indian or the postal worker (can't say postman anymore!) is Asian. If it's essential information, you want to provide it, but use caution when employing these potentially hot button terms.

Sigrid Macdonald is an editor and the author of three books, including Be Your Own Editor. Find her at  


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