Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Girl Words, Boy Words

The excellent group blog Language Log (including personal fave linguist John McWhorter) has this entry on the word cute, and gender issues in discussions of footwear. The former includes "Foxtrot" and "Preteena" cartoons, the latter, one from the strip "Cathy."

One would think trying to wring too much from word frequencies of 30000 conversational sides of men and women, or references from the Minerva Journal of Women and War would be eye-glazing boring, but it makes for fascinating reading. Cute and adorable were the most female-associated adjectives, being used by women 3.5 times more than by men. Males used tough and lame about twice as often as females. The effect was even more pronounced depending on who was being spoken to. Men tended to use cute more often if talking to a female - talking to a male, not so much. Women doubled the frequency of cute when talking with another female. This was a straight-up count, without other context.

Nouns used by females included husband and boyfriend, while wife and girlfriend were used more often by men, which would seem trivially obvious until one runs the numbers. Women use husband 15 times as often as men do, but men use wife only 5 times as often as women. Other high-frequency girl nouns were boyfriend, babies, shopping, clothes, dinner, and shoes; Boy nouns included beer, man, girlfriend, cars, dollars, and baseball. Both beer and beers got mentioned, actually.

The comments section is equally fascinating, discussing words roughly equivalent to cute in Swedish and Japanese, and tables informing us that females use subordinating conjunctions and hedges more often than males.

1 comment:

Gringo said...

Looks like there is something to sexual stereotypes.

Shoes: women.
Beer: men.

Even Joe the Plumber could have predicted that, without benefit of a Ph.D.