Replacing the Word "Freshman"

me as a freshman in high school and college
Just the other day I asked a group of girls if they were freshmen - and they responded yes. There was nothing abnormal about the conversation at the time, but later I remembered what I'd said and realized how weird it really was: Why would I call these girls a word that had "men" in it?

Now, maybe this seems like a silly issue, but I really think we ought to replace the word "freshman" with something appropriate for both sexes.

What I am talking about here is not about "political correctness," (which for inane reasons has a negative connotation): Rather, it is a case of what Confucius would call the rectification of names - the idea that when you adjust your language to be more in line with the truth of things, society will be the better for it. I addressed this before in a blogpost called "Favorite Politically Correct Terms."

freshman at GU
Now, what about this term "freshman"? The two elements of the word are simple enough, and easy to understand - a first year student, new to the school. What surprised me, however, is that it is a really old word - dating from the 16th century, in fact! However, most of the English-speaking world has entirely let go of the term: Instead they talk about "first years" (like in Harry Potter!). Only the United States has really held onto this archaic, gender-biased term, and what's worse is that everybody uses it, both in high school, college, and in other contexts, like for Congress.

The truth is that females now make up the majority of students in the United States, and it just doesn't make sense to continue the use of a term with a gender marker that dates from a time when only men were allowed in universities. Getting straight to the point, it's just plain nonsensical to refer to women and girls as freshmen. I propose that in official contexts we use the term "first year," and in unofficial contexts, first years can be frosh, freshies, freshers, or all sorts of other slangy things. None of those sound as silly as calling females freshmen.

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