We are lucky that our English language is grammatically gender-free. About a quarter of the world’s languages use grammatical gender, which means it’s a lot harder to learn a language where you must remember which gender each noun is. Some of the languages that use this system are German, French, Spanish, Italian and Gaelic.

However, we do have gender-sensitive nouns. From the French language we have inherited male/female words such as fiancé/fiancée, blond/blonde, divorcé/divorcée but actor, sculptor and aviator may nowadays be man or woman. Words like actress, sculptress and aviatrix are used less and less, as the trend is towards common terms to describe both men and women in the same professions, especially where the sex of the person is immaterial in context.

Believe it or not a female teacher was once known as a teacheress. If the executor of a will is a woman, she may be known in legal terms as an executrix.

A governor governs but a governess is a tutor or a nanny – quite different roles. Compare wizard and witch – a clever old magician, or a crone who is often wicked and ugly. While Sir is a title of respect, Madam also means a brothel supervisor.

Instead of chairman, we now say chairperson. Firemen and firewomen are called firefighters and air stewards and air stewardesses are flight attendants.

The word man was a Germanic word that originally meant person, of either sex. To make a distinction between genders, wer was used for ‘man’ and wif for ‘woman’. Gradually, wer fell into disuse (although surviving in werewolf) as man came to take over the male adult meaning. The universal sense of man remains in mankind.

Bearing this in mind, you may find crossword clues describing ‘actor’, for instance, to be a man or woman.

Happy Puzzling!