< Back to front page Text size +

Sex machine

Posted by Jan Freeman, keep until April  April 27, 2007 06:17 PM

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

I had never tried Gender Genie, but Chris's* reminder was timely, since I recently got one of the periodic inquiries I receive from readers who wonder (given my somewhat unisex name) whether I'm male or female.

The answer is female, but is my writing somehow telegraphing testosterone? I asked Gender Genie, feeding it four Word columns. Sure enough, it says I sound like a guy: The columns scored, on average, male 1346, female 964.

As a blogger, I'm more girly: The item I tested was rated female, 840 to 521. But looking at the keywords the Genie scores, I suspect this was because of my quotes from The Economist's stylebook, along the lines of "Aggravate means make worse, not irritate"; those nots, for some reason, count as strongly feminine words.

But is it the writer or the topic that's being measured? Just for fun, I plugged in Barbara Wallraff's latest Word Court column. That scored masculine too, 1005 to 768.

So did Ruth Walker's last Verbal Energy column on the Christian Science Monitor website: male 1168, female 530. And linguist Heidi Harley's recent post on Language Log: male 713, female 495.

Turns out this is just what happened when a columnist at The Guardian put the Genie through its paces a few years ago: Only one of the newspaper's female columnists was identified (and just barely) as woman.

This does make me wonder: Is journalistic prose typically more "masculine" by the Genie's yardstick? And if so, what sort of prose was used to develop the algorithm for nonfiction? Some corpus, apparently, in which women use with, if, not, where, and be a lot more than men do.

*Corrected 4/29: I originally credited the Genie post to Josh. Sorry, Chris!

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
Brainiac blogger Kevin Hartnett is a writer in Columbia, South Carolina. He can be reached here.

Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.

Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.

Guest blogger Elizabeth Manus is a writer living in New York City. She has been a book review editor at the Boston Phoenix, and a columnist for The New York Observer and Metro.

Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.

Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."

Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.

Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.


Browse this blog

by category