Is sex necessary?*
An editor at another publication has asked whether The Sun objects to the words freshman and upperclassman, having been advised by a reader that the terms are both obsolete and offensive, and should be replaced by first-year student and upper-level student.
The short answer is that no, even this bastion of Eastern liberal media elite political correctitude has not prohibited freshman and freshmen, nor is it likely to until the right-thinkers show up on Calvert Street with their pitchforks and torches. Neither do we plan to ban human or hominid, despite their etymological roots in the unabashedly sexist Latin homo, or man.
We do, like other mainstream publications, take care not to make a lot of automatic gender assignments and assumptions. We use unobtrusively gender-neutral language as a matter of course.
But we are not going to render woman and women as womon, womyn or womin. Accumulating a collection of peculiar neologisms would not serve the reader well; that can be left to academic writers who have the leisure, and audience, for that sort of thing. And while there is nothing wrong with writing first-year student, using it exclusively would make the text look clumsy and wordy.
They call us the mainstream media for a reason. We take a middle course. We shun derogatory and insulting terms; we resist new words and new usages until we see them begin to establish themselves in the language; we accept inoffensive words like freshman and midwife and others that have gender identification but are largely innocuous.
* The title of this post is taken from the 1929 book by James Thurber and E.B. White. For readers under 50 who do not recognize the names, I should explain that Thurber and White are deceased American humorists.