Point Counter Point ‘freshman’ versus ‘first year’


So there we were, discussing the plural of “freshman,” when everything went awry.

Was it as moose is to moose, or as mice is to mouse?

It was an innocent debate, really – I barely listened – then things turned from simple and innocent to quite complex and simply obnoxious.

It seems that it doesn’t matter what the plural of freshman is after all, because the University doesn’t have freshmen.

No, we have a new breed of underclassmen: “first years.”

Actually, to be more politically correct, we have first-year underclass-people.

But I’m not particularly PC.

Anyway, the whole issue stems from a few ideas that UVM students are neither “fresh” and, perhaps the most important part, half of them aren’t men. The term freshman, apparently, dates back to when only men attended college and incoming students were, thus, a “fresh man.”

We’ve deduced that UVM students are neither a.) fresh, nor b.) all men. That’s where first year comes in to play, right? However, we can do the same to “first year” those PC-minded folks have done to freshman.

Suppose you’ve come to UVM and already have a few years of college under your belt.

Not much, but some. Credit-wise you are – I’m going there – a freshman, and this is your third semester. Are you then a third-semester first year? Or a first year on their third semester? Or are you a second year, not quite a sophomore, third-semester first year?

And while we’re discussing class classifications, why not get rid of “sophomore” along with “freshman”? Or is the beef with freshman that it has “man” in it rather than just it being archaic? If that’s the case, do PC people want to change history classes to peoplestry classes?

The problem with being PC is that you will never, and I mean never, ever, make everyone happy no matter what term you use. Sure, some PC terms hold merit – call a friend of mine a “fag” and you just may find yourself on the wrong end of a fist; call me poor instead of broke and I really won’t care.

Need more examples?

Mentally retarded is out, replaced with mentally handicapped, which is even getting flak for not being PC enough.

Low-income, not poor.

Servers, not waiters and waitresses.

Undocumented workers instead of illegal immigrants.

The list of PC terms goes on and chokes our language to death with its ability to take words and twist them so they “sound” nice. In the end, it’s not the words we use but how we use them. Changing the word doesn’t change what the word means and, at the end of the day, PC isn’t PC at all, it’s just BS.


“Freshman” is a gender-biased term that assumes that students are men. It’s archaic and originated in a time where education was reserved for men.

Though it may seem that it’s just a term, the almost universal use of “freshman” quietly comments on gender inequality. Twelve of the Fortune 500 CEOs are women, while only 17 percent of the 111th Congress is female.

For every dollar a man makes in the United States, a woman makes 76 cents. Though I don’t believe that “freshman” is used in a derogatory way, the mere denotation of the word assumes that all students are men, and therefore, aren’t women.

Political correctness, as Mr. Farley points out, will not make everyone happy. But this does not mean that biased language has a place in society. “Freshman” doesn’t carry the same stigma as “negro” or “retard,” but it is a form of biased language.

Politically correct language isn’t a move toward Orwellian Newspeak. Besides, if words and phrases are biased and exclusive, why would you want them in a language anyway?

Just because we have a myriad of words that demean persons of color, homosexuals and women doesn’t mean we should use them.

A common argument against changing words and phrases to exclude biased language is that it’s not a big deal. In that same vein then, it shouldn’t be a big deal to adopt “first year.” It’s the same number of syllables, doesn’t change the meaning of the phrase – in fact, it’s more concise – and can easily be substituted into everyday language.

But a more interesting counter to the argument that gender-biased language isn’t a big deal – why not make the switch to “freshwoman?” After all, it better represents UVM students – 57 percent of which are female. Imagine the outrage that would incite.

Adopting “first year” instead of “freshman” isn’t a form of radical feminism. Rather, it is reactionary – women consistently outnumber men in universities across the nation.

It’s not even an issue of being politically correct; “first year” is simply a more accurate and straightforward term and reflects conditions that already exist.

Gender-neutral language isn’t a restriction of free expression. The government doesn’t mandate citizens to use politically correct language.

The Cynic is protected under the First Amendment to print a variety of obscenities – vulgar language, racial epithets, ethnic slurs, pornography, etc. Yet we choose not to publish such language because it is inappropriate for public discourse.

If The Cynic strives to be a progressive publication, it should follow the lead of the University and adopt “first year” as the appropriate term – there is no place for biased language in the 21st century, however subtle it may be.