Idioms from a generation past

Late one night, a friend and I got discussing after she tweeted about using the phrase ‘Jacqueline of all trades’. We felt that it didn’t exactly roll off the tongue and settled on ‘Jackie of all trades’, which is better for being gender-neutral.

Naturally, it got me thinking about idioms and phrases that have a gender focus. 

A few days later, I have nine. I avoided using Google because I wanted to think about the phrases that are in use today, starting with the ones that come to mind easily.

As expected, my list (below) hints at traditional gender roles, with the male phrases being about taking action, having skills and owning things whereas the female ones (although I could only think of three) are used to express rage and anxious behaviour.

This makes sense because languages evolve by taking clues from contemporary culture. These phrases probably captured society at the time they were coined. They may well be on their way to extinction. For example, one possible explanation of the term ‘Jack of all trades’ is that it is linked to the name ‘Jack’, which was used to describe the common man in the 16 century.

I was excited to discover that a female version of ‘Jack of all trades’ exists in Croatian, Serbian and Slovene. There are plenty of gender neutral versions of it too.

The phrases could also be explained by males having been the more publicly vocal sex of the two, back in the day. However, I am only hypothesising.

The running list of male phrases is as follows:

Jack of all trades

Take it like a man

An Englishman’s home is his castle

A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do

King of my castle

Man up

The running list of female phrases is as follows:

Don’t get your panties in a twist

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned

Like a girl

What is the takeaway? We should be conscious of the words we choose so that we can be relevant. Phrases such as ‘like a girl’  are being taken down because they are sexist.

Write in with any phrases that you can think of and I’ll add them to the list.



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