Do You Still Use The Word 'Fireman'? It's Time To Stop

What's In A Name?

Do You Still Use The Word 'Fireman'? It's Time To Stop

An email to our newsroom this morning sparked a lengthy debate about gender-neutral occupation terms. James Lake writes. 

The message came from Victoria's Metropolitan Fire Brigade, requesting we stop using the term "fireman". The emergency service wanted to remind us that "fireman" is an out-dated terminology, which doesn’t reflect the modern fire service, which has included female firefighters for almost 30 years. They suggested, "fire fighter". 

Fair point, and it made us wonder if our society now just accepts some formerly "masculine" terms as gender neutral?

In old English, the suffix-man had the meaning "person", but we now predominantly considered it to be masculine. Think of salesman or fisherman. At the same time, traditionally feminine terms such as actress and waitress are becoming less common. There's stacks of examples where the masculine term is now used as a generic reverence to a mixed-gender group of people, such as women calling themselves actors rather than an actress.

Other terms have been replaced with a neutral name all together, like postie instead of postman, or flight attendant instead of steward or stewardess, bartender instead of barman or barmaid.

Perhaps the most controversial spotlight put on gender-based terms came in 2016, when former Army chief David Morrison says the term "guys" should no longer be used in workplaces.

Morrison told the ABC, "Exclusive language, gender-based language or inappropriate language, has as much a deleterious or disadvantaged effect as something where you're saying something blatantly inappropriate to another human being."

Do you make an effort to use gender-neutral language? Would you say "fire man" or "fire fighter"? What other terms need to change?

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