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Ladies Room Linguistics


How often do you hear the term “Ladies?”

The term ladies or ladies room (a figure of speech called metonymy or indirectness) may be coming back as political correctness becomes tamer than it once was about a decade ago. Back then a case could be made  that the term can be connected to such connotations as “ladies of the night” and “ladies of the house,” which, by most accounts give women a lower status then men. Note that the politically incorrect  First Ladies never underwent a transformation to First Women?

The word ladies room is considered a euphemism because it’s intention is to make the toilet sound more tasteful in conversation. American indirectness toward anything having to do with sex or human elimination always baffles Europeans who give you a strange look when you say ladies room or bathroom. Their word is the more direct toilet and that’s that.

Consider the connotations of young ladies and young women; a woman and a lady; a pretty lady and a pretty woman; my woman and my lady, married to a woman and married to a lady.

You can come to the conclusion by saying these words out loud that lady is a kind of archaic term used by the older generation and woman is favored by the younger set.

Educators are taught to use gender neutral language. For example, fireman is firefighter; stewardess/steward is flight attendant; man-made is manufactured; policeman is police officer and so on. They’re trained to avoid using children’s books that stereotype or use tokenism.

Consider the sign above. It’s is over forty years old, shot in Amboy, California, a ghost town in the Mohave desert between Palm Springs and Las Vegas. What are the connotations of the word here? Would they be different if the sign said “Girls,” “Women, “Madam,” “Dame,” “Princesses,” “Queens,” or “Broads?”

All of those words have a potpourri of connotations. The politically correct term today is women, in part because both words men and women are considered to have equal linguistic footing…for now.

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