Stop Calling Women “Girls” (Including in Fiction Writing)

It’s not okay to call a woman a “girl” in most cases when writing fiction (and, you know, in life in general)

smiling woman with red hair and red lips

Look at this woman / human / person / lady.

It used to be that men got away with calling women a lot of offensive terms—in the office, on the street, and in their own homes—on a range of intolerability. Now, thanks to #metoo and empowering each other through a global online connection of sisterhood (rah rah!), women aren’t tolerating any of these words any longer.

Sometimes change is made most effectively through education. There are words all people know are offensive, and there are others they have to be taught are.

This is where “girls” comes in. I know personally that a lot of male authors (and some female ones) don’t realize calling a woman a “girl” can come across as offensive, and polite and respectful education can really make a difference here. So, as part of a general sensitivity read I conduct while editing, I will change the word “girl” to “woman” (or “girls” to “women”) when I come across a situation that warrants change and explain, respectfully and professionally, why I did what I did.

 

When it’s not okay to use “girls”

Most of the time, when a character or narrator refers to any female person who is older than eighteen, it is not appropriate to call them a “girl.” This is especially true when there is a power dynamic that puts the man on top, such as when he is talking to an underling at work.

When it is okay to use “girls”

Obviously when a character or narrator is referring to a child, “girl” is the correct option. But there’s another case when I keep an author’s use of “girl” while editing.

When an adult female character is talking casually with another adult female character, I find it okay for them to call each other “girls.” There are several words in the English language that are defamatory in general but are accepted in use within a specific group, when the group has inverted the negative connotation. But the key is the word can only be used by a member of that particular group about a member in the same group.

This means a woman can call another woman a “girl” and it be okay.

Think about a woman (in real life or fiction) saying to another woman:

“I could really use a girls’ night.”

“Wow, girl, you are looking fantastic!”

“Girl, don’t you wish we made the same amount of money as men for the same work and that wrinkly, old white men would stop trying to legislate what we do with our own bodies?”

“Yeah, girl, I know.”

All of these statements (and similar ones) are acceptable between one woman to another.

A third time when it’s okay to use “girls” is when the character or narrator intends to be offensive. If you’re writing about a creep or a lecherous jerk, then it would make sense that they would call a woman a “girl.” My aim in this post is to help writers avoid situations when they would be unintentionally offensive.

Alternatives to “girls”

Don’t worry. There are lots of other words you could use instead:

· gals

· ladies

· friends

· folks

· people

· humans

· or just their names

There you go! Such a small change can go a long way to making your readers feel respected, and making you look (and feel) good in the process.

This is a cross post with the Dot and Dash blog. While you’re there, you can read my other posts about writing and check out my book editing and author coaching services.

 

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Why I’m Giving to Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library and You Should Too

 

dolly

I am grateful to my clients and for my work at Dot and Dash, my author services company, and I’m thankful to be in a position where I can give back to my global community in a way that mirrors Dot and Dash’s commitment to empowerment and the promotion of creativity.

Starting now, I am donating 1.25 percent of my earnings from Dot and Dash to Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. Her organization mails one free children’s book a month to any child who signs up for the program until they enter kindergarten. Since the Imagination Library’s launch in 1995, she has mailed more than 100 million books to one million plus children.

My life and work are built around the wonders of the written word, and I’m am honored to be able to help bring this world to today’s children.

Take note of these statistics about US literacy:

  • Thirty-four percent of children entering kindergarten lack the basic language skills needed to learn how to read. (1)

  • One out of six children who do not read at their age level in third grade will not go on to graduate high school. (2)

  • By grade four, 65 percent of students already do not read at their grade level. (3)

  • Ninety-three million adults in the United States read at or below the basic level needed to contribute successfully to society. (1)

It’s vital we do what we can to help kids have the best chance at a good future. Introducing them to reading at an early age is an easy way we can help. Through Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, just $2 per month will send one high-quality, age-appropriate book to a child. I hope you consider giving too: https://imaginationlibrary.com/

  1. https://www.rif.org/sites/default/files/Literacy-Facts-Stats.pdf

  2. https://www.aecf.org/blog/poverty-puts-struggling-readers-in-double-jeopardy-minorities-most-at-risk/

  3. https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/pdf/coe_cnb.pdf

 

Erin Servais runs Dot and Dash LLC, which serves independent, women author-entrepreneurs through collaborative and positive-minded book editing, critiquing, and coaching to empower them to reach their publishing dreams. Learn more: www.dotanddashllc.com

Tmesis

girl with hand covering her mouth

What-the-frig-ever is a tmesis?

Fan-freaking-tastic! Whoopde-damn-doo!

These are examples of tmesis. Tmesis is when a word is divided into parts, and another word is inserted inside of it, often for comic effect or emphasis. It comes from the Greek tmesis, meaning “to cut.”

A classic example of this is from the Shakespearean play Richard II: “How-heinous-ever it be.”

Another example is a-whole-nother, which often gets decried as being poor English. What-the-heck-ever. Here’s what Merriam-Webster has to say in defense of this word.

Erin Servais is an abso-bloody-lutely good editor. To learn how she can help you with your next editing project, check out her website: Dot and Dash site.

Ho Ho How Do You Punctuate That?

santa

It’s getting to be that time of year when children close their eyes and fantasize about an old, fat man breaking into their house while they sleep naïvely in false security in their bedrooms.

“Ho! Ho! Ho!” the man says to himself as he places consumer goods under a tree that for some reason has been moved to their living room.

Wait. Perhaps he says “Ho ho ho!” instead. Just how many exclamation points does this slavemaster of reindeer use?

Let’s turn to the authorities. Here’s what Merriam-Webster has to say:

Screen Shot 2018-12-06 at 10.24.56 AM.png

There you have it. Three hos and one exclamation point.

Ho ho ho! Merry Christmas (etc.) to you!

Erin Servais is a professional book editor who is really hoping she won’t get coal this Christmas. Learn more about how she can help you reach your publishing goals here: Dot and Dash website.

Trick-or-Treater OR Trick or Treater?

trick or treat photo

I don’t care about your stupid mask, lady. Put the candy in the bag.

How do you spell the name of those adorable (menacing) little children (vagrants) who knock on your door asking for (demanding) candy on Halloween night? Is it “trick-or-treaters” or “trick or treaters”? Hyphens or no hyphens?

The answer is: hyphens. The correct way to spell it is “trick-or-treater.”

But what about “trick or treat,” you say? Hyphens or no hyphens there? This one is a bit more complicated.

Let’s look at the two ways you can use “trick or treat,” as a verb and as a noun.

Verb: Sally dressed up as an amoeba to trick-or-treat.

Noun: As Sally dragged her candy sack home, she thought the trick or treat was successful.

When I wrote “trick-or-treat” as a verb, I used hyphens. Hyphens are always the answer when you use it as a verb. But when written as a noun, “trick or treat” can go either way, says our friends at Merriam-Webster:

screen-shot-2018-10-26-at-11-47-57-am.png

Now go forth and eat candy, friends! A happy trick or treat to all!

Erin Servais is a book editor who specializes in young adult literature. She also has a sweet tooth. To learn more about how she can help you with your writing project, visit her website.