Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Let's talk about... yeah, what?

Does gender influence language? You know the stereotypes: men discussing cars and women discussing fashion, and women knowing a dozen or more names for different hues of the same colour while men would just call them all 'blue' (experience has shown me that such stereotypes are very inaccurate - except maybe the colour thing, although there certainly are exceptions to that, too). Now and then, studies attempt to find out just how (or if) gender influences our conversations and the ways we use language. I just came across this study which claims that some words are better known to men than to women, and some words are better known to women than to men. A vocabulary test was used to find out what such words are, and they did indeed find words that show a recognition gap between genders.

First, the 12 words with the largest difference in favour of men (between brackets: % of men who know the word, % of women who know the word):
codec (88, 48)
solenoid (87, 54)
golem (89, 56)
mach (93, 63)
humvee (88, 58)
claymore (87, 58)
scimitar (86, 58)
kevlar (93, 65)
paladin (93, 66)
bolshevism (85, 60)
biped (86, 61)
dreadnought (90, 66)

And the 12 words with the largest difference in favour of women (again, between brackets: % of men who know the word, % of women who know the word):
taffeta (48, 87)
tresses (61, 93)
bottlebrush (58, 89)
flouncy (55, 86)
mascarpone (60, 90)
decoupage (56, 86)
progesterone (63, 92)
wisteria (61, 89)
taupe (66, 93)
flouncing (67, 94)
peony (70, 96)
bodice (71, 96)

The vocabulary test is available at the site, but I was too lazy to take it and just looked at the two lists and counted the words I recognised. Even though I'm not a native speaker of English, it looks like I fall into the typical pattern, knowing more words in the women's word list (9) than on the men's (6). What's your result?

However, I can't help but wonder how our vocabularies are influenced by other things besides gender, such as culture, education, experience and, especially, personal interests. They must play a significant role – if I weren't interested in history and swords, would I have recognised claymore, scimitar or paladin?

(Since I couldn't think of anything else to add as an illustration, I'll post a picture of a claymore sword from Wikipedia. :D)


  1. I recognise 11 of the male words (discounting solenoid since I have heard it and know that it has something to do with electricity, but have little idea what, where, when and why) and 4 female words: taffeta, tresses, bottlebrush, bodice. Perhaps mascarpone if it is something candy-like and not an interesting name for mascara? And peony - it's a flower, eh? If those guesses are right, I raise my knowledge to 6 words!

    1. Very interesting! And very close to the typical pattern then. Yes, peony is a flower, but mascarpone is a kind of cheese, soft, like cream cheese. Used in tiramisu! :)

    2. I must wonder that men won't recognise bodice, however... Or perhaps it has been too long since ripping them was part of a man's education?

    3. Heehee, I wondered about the same thing! ;)