Political correctness rears its head again with job titles for people maintaining our road network or working in the construction industry. I’m all in a quandary.
I was waiting in a queue of traffic today leading to some roadworks, grumbling to myself about the workmen doing up the street. As I drove past, I spied a lass hacking lumps out of the tarmac with a pickaxe and wondered what the correct terminology would be these days when referring to her job.
Presumably the terms workman and workmen – odd choices of vernacular in any language – stem from the bygone days of when only men (or predominantly men) maintained highways, and the ‘work’ part of the term stems from roadworks.
As usual, I began musing about what options there were, and nothing seemed to fit. Then I went further and wondered what should be used instead in our genderless, more neutral world. A few things that flashed through my mind, some retaining gender, some not:
- workperson sounds pants
- workwoman sounds wrong and would piss off non-binary employees
- workmanwoman is just silly
- worklady sounds like a colloquial term for a prostitute
- roadworkers is a possibility
- roadworks operative is gender safe but wishy-washy
- road builder might work, although in this case they seem to be building a bus stop in the pavement
- road mender has potential but, again, only really applicable to roads not building work in general
- constructor has merit (although I always think of object-oriented programming when I hear it) but doesn’t really cover demolition experts
- hardhatter might catch on
Any more? There’s gotta be a cool term out there somewhere that isn’t derogatory, presumptuous of gender, or a mouthful.