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  Tips for Writers by Brad Hyde (January 17, 2010)

Woman, Girl or Female? Sensitive Language!

It is difficult, sometimes, to know which word to use among “woman,” “girl” or “female.” Each one carries connotations along with their literal meanings (which can seem quite similar to students unfamiliar with English).

In some circles, especially within families, the word “girls” might be used to describe grown women of varying ages. An alternative, “ladies,” is less demeaning, but still may cause offense if used outside a family. Older Canadians, growing up in a time of different social customs, may sometimes still use the word “girl” to describe a secretary or assistant.

But, no matter where you are, and especially if you are not sure of the customs, it is best to describe females as “women” and a female individual as a “woman.” Take your cues from those around you. When I am with family and comfortable, I might call grown women “girls,” often in a joking and gentle way, but never say that in public or at school.

Listen to people around you. What do they say? To fit in well, follow the social norm.

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