I was hoping that 2012 would turn out to be the year of the female voter. But I'm afraid it will be the year of the woman voter -- again. It has been every election year since I can remember.
"Women voters" will play a major role in who wins the House of Representatives, the Senate, and the presidency, while nary a peep will be heard from the female ones. We will hear from women senators, women pollsters and women experts, all of whom will wax eloquently about the woman vote on television panels for the next six months.
I'm no grammatical genius -- I couldn't cough up the difference between an apposition and a periphrastic if I were waterboarded by Strunk and White -- but I can tell when something sounds awful. And the term "woman voter" sounds like gravel in my ears. I can't be alone in that.
Last I checked, the word "woman" was a noun and the word "female" was an adjective. But somewhere along the line that single word became a catchall for all things feminine. One can technically argue for the use of "woman" as an attributive noun to connote adulthood, I'm told . . . but doesn't "voter" imply that?
I don't blame the fairer sex for any of this. Men started it. But I submit we were frightened into error. The whole lot of us have become so terrified of blurting out the word "girl" inappropriately, or saying something equally egregious, that we have abandoned all gender identifiers other than the "W" word. We know it is safe, so we cling to it with both arms, while consciously mangling the English language and all reason in the process. On more than one occasion my 51/2-year-old daughter has been haltingly referred to by men as "such a pretty young woman." And let me tell you, that one's all girl.
The practice reminds me of a gaffe I once heard while watching a skiing event on television. A black skier from a European nation won a medal, and the American broadcaster covering the occasion blurted out: "That's the first time an African-American ... from any country ... has won a medal in this event."
We all knew what she meant, but c'mon.
At first I thought women were in on this gag. I thought you were all getting a chuckle listening to us twist ourselves into linguistic knots as revenge for centuries of sleights and that whole chastity-belt thing. But I'm afraid everyone's caught the bug now. How else to explain the National Association of Women Judges. (Is it me, or does that sound like a union for beauty pageant marshals?) Or how about The Associations of Women Surgeons and Women Attorneys? Then there is the Society of Women Engineers. Not to be outdone, the Society of Women Geographers was formed, to which single, topographically curious men have probably tried to join unsuccessfully. These associations are no doubt filled with some of the finest minds in the world, but did no one raise her hand in the organizing meetings?
Even respected news editors have capitulated. The Washington Post blared in a headline this week: "Romney Battles for Women Voters." While Fox News penned the coy headline, "Women voters turning their backs on President Obama?" This is just the beginning I'm afraid. Because it looks like, once again, double-X chromosome voters may decide the presidential election in November.
What an opportunity to further this important grammatical cause. But who will carry the message? Surely not The League of Women Voters.
Bill O'Reilly is a corporate and political communications consultant who works on the Republican side of the aisle.