UN doesn’t like the terms “wife” or “girlfriend”

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The United Nations has recently published a post on its Twitter account promoting the use of gender-neutral words as opposed to gender-colored ones, such as boyfriend, and girlfriend, or husband, and wife. The UN also doesn’t like names of professions that contain the word “man”, such as fireman or businessman.

“What you say matters. Help create a more equal world by using gender-neutral language if you’re unsure about someone’s gender or are referring to a group,“ the UN post said.


The post was followed by a table with appropriate equivalents to gender-colored words. For example, according to the UN, the word “humanity”, which in English is “mankind”, should be replaced by “humankind” with the same meaning. The word “mankind” consists of the words “man” and “kind”, giving some people the impression that it means all humanity without women.

Analogously to that, neither terms “boyfriend“ or “girlfriend” should be used, but instead a neutral “partner”. Similarly, the UN recommends replacing the terms for husband and wife with neutral “spouse”.

The UN is also bothered by words denoting certain professions. For example, firemen, policemen, businessmen, or chairmen are to be renamed according to the UN as firefighters, police officers, representatives, or chairs.

Most words that the UN does not approve include the word “man” or another term referring to the male sex.

However, some of the substitutes present new problems. For example, the word “landlord” is to be replaced by the word “owner”, which can also mean holder and evoke slavery. If an individual were to follow a UN recommendation, he could say: “This is James, James is my owner.” Some Twitter users pointed out the absurdity immediately.

Criticism of the UN ensued. For example, Lucy Harris, a former Member of the European Parliament for Britain, wrote: “Stop trying to control how people speak. It’s weird and unnecessary.”

Former Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek also joined the criticism: “You’ve definitely gone crazy. Why are we paying for this?”

The tweet that sparked the heated debate was originally shared by an account belonging to UN Women, a UN organization that aims to fight for women’s rights and gender equality. 

The United Nations also published guidelines for gender-inclusive language on its website. There are, for instance, recommendations on how to avoid gender-biased expressions or when to use feminine and masculine pronouns. 

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