The Term ‘Girl’ Had Nothing To Do With Gender, 700 Years Ago

by Aadarsh Jain

The Term ‘Girl’ Had Nothing To Do With Gender, 700 Years Ago

April 10, 2021

The word 'girl,' according to its roots, had nothing to do with gender and was used to represent both genders or young men and women 700 years ago.

The Word 'Girl' In Our Daily Lives

The word ‘girl’ is now exclusively applied to young females, it used to have no such meaning. When we hear words like ‘girly’ or ‘girlish,’ we naturally think of pink, but the term ‘female’ has a gender-neutral origin. The term ‘girl’ is no longer just a noun, but it is stereotyped and elevated as weak ad fragile. Regardless of the fact that symbols of girl power are being used to redefine the term “girl,” the word ‘girl’ has gender-neutral roots.

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How Was The Word 'Girl' Used Before

Geoffrey Chaucer, a Middle Ages poet, is recognized for being the first one to use the term “girl” in his poem “The Canterbury Tales” in 1387. And in the old English dictionary, the word ‘gyrl’ was present. Back then, the term ‘gyrl’ was used to refer to any individual, whether a boy or a girl, regardless of gender.

Chaucer wrote :
In daunger hadde he at his owene gyse
The yonge gerles of the diocise,
And knew hir conseil, and was al hir reed.

In which by gerles he meant the children!

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When Did 'Girl' became generalised

In the early 1400s, the usage of the word ‘girl’ began to change toward a more gendered use.

In his book of proverbs, John Heywood wrote in 1546:

The gyrle is thy wyfe, and the boy is thy husbande.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the concept of ‘female’ as a ‘young woman’ became more or less official by the next century.


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