Monday, March 17, 2008

On Golden Blonde

(Sorry, that's just the best porno title I ever heard.) In case you didn't know, there is a difference between boys and girls. I'm not talking down to you - most authors, journalists, and general writers don't know this!

How many times have you seen the word "blonde" in a male's description - as in, "The suspect had blonde hair"? Well, that means he had a woman's hair color, and unless he was wearing a wig made of 100% human hair that was taken from only females, that's grammatically incorrect.

Women and girls are "blondes" and have blonde hair; men and boys are "blonds" with blond hair. This is actually a hold-over from the French roots; in French, the "-e" is added to many words to connote the female gender and/or feminine qualities (this is actually true in many languages, though the linguistics may be slightly different - I could give some examples, but I only know dirty ones).

Further, this extends to skin color and complexion and is used the same way; a fair-complected boy has a "blond" complexion, and a fair-complected girl is a blonde. In its most literal form, the word also connotes blue eyes, so if you want to accurately portray your brown-eyed, blond-haired character, you need to note his eye color when describing him.

Technically, the words are interchangeable when describing animals and objects, but if you want to be specific, follow the rule when describing animals and use the feminine form when discussing objects (as it is proper form to refer to objects as feminine in American English).

But what of the darker-haired of the species?

Same rules apply: women are brunettes and males are brunets.

Bet you've never seen that word (brunet), huh?

Technically, a girl can be both a blonde and a brunette. In the example above, our fair-headed, dark-eyed boy would be "a blond-haired brunet" - if he has a dark complexion to match his eyes - or "a blond with brunet eyes," if he has fair skin.

In American English, it is also correct form not to refer to a male's hair by shade. For example, men are rarely described as being "strawberry-blond" or "dishwater-blonds." In American English, the qualifiers need to be related to something more masculine, such as "rusty" (red-headed) or "sandy" (blond) and are rarely hyphenated or qualified ("rusty-haired").

This is carried on to complexion, so that a male's complexion is said to be "ruddy," not "raven," "chalky," not "creamy." Contrary to most, the English language does not rely on nuance in these cases; English is a very specific language which employs specific words for gender inference, as opposed to grammatical trappings (such as adding the "-e") or other linguistic acrobatics.

This is what makes these words noteworthy: they are among the exceptions which prove this rule.

© C Harris Lynn, 2008

1 comment:

  1. Never let it be said that I don't admit it when I am wrong. Check out this brief, clever article which corrects my usage of such hyphenates as "blond-headed."

    That's what this blog is for, after all: learning more about writing. And I am always looking to do that.

    Sorry for misleading y'all - but one of you intrepid wordsmiths should have called me on it!