Caution: people at work

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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.

Women at work roadworks sign

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.

Spout 'em if you got 'em

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