‘Y’all’ ready for this? UN urges Aussies to use gender-neutral language

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

Aussies should ditch phrases such as ‘ladies and gentlemen’ and instead opt for gender-neutral language such as ‘y’all’ or ‘folks’, according to the United Nations, which has issued fresh calls for people to stop using gender-specific pronouns.

According to guidelines, English speakers should replace terms like ‘maiden name’ with the more inclusive ‘family name’, or say ‘folks’ instead of ‘boys and girls’, while spouses should refer to each other as precisely that, rather than ‘husband’ or ‘wife’.

UN Women Australia –  a national branch of the global organisation – is urging Australians to embrace gender-neutral language and shared a message on Twitter earlier this week which highlighted some of the words it deems inappropriate when addressing a group or someone whose gender you’re unsure of.

“If you don’t know someone’s gender or when talking about a group, use gender-neutral language,” the post reads. It then lists a series of words it would like people to replace, including mankind, chairman, businessman and maiden name, and offers some politically correct alternatives.

UN Women also want people to use the word ‘owner’ instead of ‘landlord’, replace ‘policeman’ with ‘police officer’ and ditch ‘manpower’ for ‘workforce’, while ‘boyfriend’ and ‘girlfriend’ should be replaced with ‘partner’. The post – which was shared on the UN’s official Twitter account – states using the language will help to “create a more equal world”.

The post triggered a backlash, however, with many people suggesting the organisation should be focused on the ongoing global Covid-19 pandemic. While others lashed out at being told what language they can and cannot use.

One such critic was MP Mark Latham, who branded the campaign “ludicrous”. Speaking to the Daily Telegraph, the Upper House MP said: “I’d tell them – ‘y’all crazy’. You’d walk the streets and pubs and clubs of Australia for a million years and you’ll never hear anyone saying ‘y’all’.

“My advice to them is that if they want to use ‘y’all” I’d strongly advice them to go and live in the United States, go to Alabama.”

Another user tweeted: “Stop trying to control people’s language. It’s creepy and unnecessary.” While another critic said: “Because there is nothing else going on at the moment that needs sorting. What a bunch of money wasters.”

However many people also spoke out in support of the use of gender-neutral language, including one English teacher who wrote: “As an English teacher and linguist, who thinks we should all be going more to combat sexism in our language, thank you for providing a list of options. Many of the negative comments are the exact sort of people who need this list.”

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