Language problems

We often see the same language problems over and over again in the manuscripts we receive. Here we discuss some of the more common problem categories.

[Back to language index]

Gender versus sex

Sex is a biological trait. Gender is both a grammatical term and a social construct. Recently, because sex has become a colloquial synonym for sexual intercourse, many writers use gender in place of sex. The US National Institutes of Health often uses gender, and so do some journals, but at SciWrite we follow the American Medical Association Manual of Style and retain the distinction.

The New York Times also retains the distinction. In answer to a reader’s question, Merrill Perlman, Director of Copy Desks at the paper, wrote the following (24 March 2008):

. . . Common usage applies ‘gender’ mostly in nonbiological contexts, as in gender politics, gender rights, etc. One of our overarching themes is to describe things in unblushing and non-euphemistic terms. ‘Sex’ somewhere became a dirty word, replaced by its supposedly cleaner ‘gender,’ but it’s not dirty. When we’re talking about something that has to do with whether you’re a man or a woman, therefore, we use ‘sex.’  One of our favorite expressions around here is ‘nouns have gender; people, bless their hearts, have sex.’

“Gender . . . is not a substitute for ‘sex’ (but then, what is?).” The Careful Writer: A Modern Guide to English Usage, T.M. Bernstein

[Back to language index]


About us




How to submit manuscripts


Language problems

Useful links


"Understanding" books

Tower of Babel

Tower of Babel, Pieter Bruegel the Elder (ca. 1525-1569)