sex, not gender

To: Philip Veerman <>
Subject: sex, not gender
From: "Jeremy O'Wheel" <>
Date: Tue, 22 Jan 2013 16:06:53 +1100
An interesting couple of additions to this discussion;

1.  If you do a journal article search for "gender" amongst zoological
journals, there are actually quite a lot (although it's difficult to find a
non biased metric in order to compare with "sex" as a synonym, but that
does appear to be a lot more common.)  Not that this in anyway indicates
that using "gender" to talk about the sex of animals is correct, but it's
interesting to note that it gets through in some cases.

2.  A Google Books Ngram search of "gender" and "sex" together is really
interesting (to me at least :P).  Basically this searches through virtually
everybook printed since 1800 and gives a word count for "sex" and for

As you can see, the word "gender" was virtually never used at all until
1970, and has very recently entered published language after that.  "Sex"
has been used in the printed world for a lot longer, but also increased
dramatically from about 1960-1980, and has been steady since then (while
use of "gender" continued to grow, before beginning to peak in the late


On 22 January 2013 14:45, Philip Veerman <> wrote:

> I will have another go. Of course as a biologist, I would always use the
> word sex, not gender, in the context that Denise did. However I thought the
> response that this was wrong, to be harsh and unnecessary. It is a
> reasonable use and I believe not wrong.
> The main point is: where do you draw the dividing line. If humans have
> gender characteristics, surely the identical gender characteristics are
> shown in gorillas and chimpanzees, then what about monkeys, that are almost
> the same, then indeed most mammals. Who would deny that a bull is masculine
> and a cow is feminine? Why not birds, indeed many insects and anything else
> you would care to consider, such as the parts of plants that are different
> between male and females, all these have fundamentally the same masculine
> and feminine characteristics. Those are words about gender. These
> characteristics are dictated as a consequence of the difference in size,
> number and motility between eggs and sperm, or pollen and ova in plants.
> Yes
> they are expressed in a myriad of ways, according to the lifestyle of the
> species but all come back to the same start point. Of course there is the
> peripheral complication of reversed sexual dimorphism in goshawks.
> So yes normally we would us the word sex in that context. However these
> gender characteristics occur throughout most living things and at their
> fundamentals, they are remarkably consistent. Therefore I see nothing wrong
> with referring to them as gender things, even though it is a minor use and
> horribly confused with the complications of grammar use, such as that a
> ship
> is of the female gender and a car is male, or by gender defined genus (and
> family?) names or the female gender of a tropical cyclone. I even recall
> that in one other language, the word for vagina is male gender but I have
> forgotten the details. That just shows how silly this all is. Or the
> complication of prudishness against using the word sex, (though I'm not
> sure
> how important that is). Even though that gets messy, such as: "when did you
> last have sex"? Well of course I have it right now (meaning I am still
> male).
> It is not unusual for words to have various meanings, even the opposite of
> what they should mean. Consider the word "temper": "He has a temper" should
> mean he is a calm and actually temperate but it is used for the opposite.
> And don't get me started on "decimate", now often used as though it means
> devastate, instead of the trivial act of killing 10% of a population.
> Philip
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