Maid, Mother, Crone

Posted on 30/07/2013 by


I want to ask your opinion on something: What freight, if any, do the words ‘girl’, ‘young woman’ and ‘woman’ have for you — in relation to both the person referred to and the person speaking?

For instance, if someone (say a person in their early twenties) referred to a person whose name they didn’t know as ‘the girl’ (as in, ‘the girl stood up and punched me in the face’) how old would you think the girl was?

See, I noticed in this last draft that when a certain character first appears (before they learn her name) she’s referred to as ‘the girl’. And I’m pretty sure I wrote ‘girl’ instead of  ‘woman’ originally because I tend to refer to people of all ages as boys and girls as though I’m a particularly decrepit kindergarten teacher. Given it’s a me-thing though, I was eyeing it off and wondering if it was also appropriate for my character when I realised that, regardless of whatever I may or may not have been thinking when I wrote it the descriptor is serving as something of a quiet cue to the age of the character. The question is: what is that cue saying exactly?

I asked one of my beta readers who said that ‘girl’ is someone under sixteen. Which is way too young for this character. But ‘woman’ brings with it a train of… well, adulthood that isn’t really appropriate. Because she is quite young. Just not that young. And the suggested alternative of ‘young woman’ makes the POV character using the term sound ancient. To me, anyway.

And that’s my issue, really. I’m wondering if my instinctive responses to those terms match up with other people’s. So tell me: what’s your reflex reaction to those descriptors?

Calvin and Hobbes comic. Calvin is at his school desk taking a test. The test question reads: 1. Explain Newton's First Law of Motion in your own words. Calvin looks somewhat dismayed. Then he has an idea. He writes: "Yakka foob moggrug pubbawup zink wattoom gazork. Chumble spuzz." Then he leans back in his chair, satisfied and says, "I love loopholes."

This would work better for me. No built-in connotations.