FUNNY WOMEN #155: Feminine and Masculine Words


Just because we can’t tell words which restroom they are legally required to use, we can still restrict them in a million other ways. For instance, while Latin languages assign gender to determine which article to use (la casa, el sombrero), English uses gender to determine the whole context. Such as: How many wrinkles is the subject’s face allowed to have? Does the sentence run-on in a nagging, frigid fashion? Is the punctuation shrill or oversensitive? Are the parentheses suffocating their verbs in a wifely hug? Are the dependent clauses too clingy?

Many words have to be translated across genders. Though as the table below illustrates, the difference is barely noticeable.

Masculine Feminine
Handsome Sperm dumpster, asking for it, whatever it is
Apartment Spinster land of sadness
Walking (nighttime) Suicidal, punching a bear in the face
Groom (verb) Artistically hide recognizable features
Joke Diapers


Rule of thumb: If a word has a slightly negative connotation, assume it’s feminine.

However, most words are more flexible and can be altered by adding the letter y. For example, the masculine boss can be easily transformed into the feminine bossy; this happens because “boss” comes from the Latin Bosseus, the first emperor to be fed grapes while reclining, whereas “bossy” comes from the Medieval French bossey, the first known term for “pain in the ass.”

In practice, if two coworkers are complaining about their boss (note: if the coworkers were female, then I would have used the feminine verb bitching), then the boss is female, because she is being complained about.

In that case, grammatically speaking, the complaint would have to entail/cite the one or more following:

  1. How the boss is a disgraceful wife/negligent mother who likely didn’t breastfeed.
  2. How the boss probably had to freeze her eggs and subscribe to Hulu because she will never be anyone’s wife/mother.
  3. How the boss’s underwear choices are reflective of her imposter syndrome.
  4. How her tone of voice is driving the company into financial ruin.


Finally, there are the words that are unisex but have different meanings. Smiling (masculine) is what one does when happy, whereas smiling (feminine) is something women should do to make others happy.

If you have trouble differentiating, pay attention to the context of the sentence and to the confidence with which you see the subject walking on the street.

Some other unisex words:



(m) place to hold wallet, keys, phone
(f) decorative stitching implying equality


(m) objects that protect your feet
(f) objects that shame your feet for not being more sexually attractive and your body for not being of another height

Keep in mind that no word is gender neutral. Even the simplest of words such as yes and no have gender. Yes is feminine because it is vagina-like, warm and accepting. No is a man’s word. Men use this word toward women so often that when women try to use this word toward men, it confuses the system. Hence the No Means No campaign. When men hear No from a woman, they often forget what it means.

A helpful trick can be to picture feminine words (pumpkin latte, duvet cover) as butterflies. Soft, delicate, hard to catch, and useless except near flowers. Masculine words are more like knives. They are durable and useful. (War! Fire! Duct tape!) This is why feminine words tend to be found in Ikeas or spilled over brunch and are best kept in the home; on Senate floors they are trampled or ignored altogether.

English informs you of the facts right away. But words are always changing. Last year our research team spent tens of millions of dollars to find out if the word president was in fact masculine or feminine, and we found that it was actually an arbitrary and almost neutral term, one that could be given to an aggressive blowfish or to an expired bowl of mac and cheese made from the cheapest box in the grocery store aisle.

We estimate that more and more words will follow suit and will be judged not on their meaning, which we will soon forget as we transition to an emoji dictionary that will make gender and race clearer and clearer to us.


Rumpus original art by Kaili Doud


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Sonya Redi lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with a puppy she is pretty sure is more popular than her. Her writing has appeared in The Brooklyn Rail, Hobart, and Girls Get Busy. She is also a writer for Screen Slate. More from this author →