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androgynous

Printable Version Pronunciation: æn-drah-jê-nês Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: 1. Indistinguishable as to gender by looks, clothing, or behavior. 2. [Biology] Having the physical characteristics of both sexes (plants and animals).

Notes: Back in the 60s and 70s when the struggle for equal rights for women had just begun to gain momentum, there was a movement for 'unisex' styles in clothing and hairdos to emphasize the equality of men and women. I was always bemused by the need for a new word when today's was just sitting on the shelf, waiting for the right moment. The noun referring to the state of having both genders or an indistinguishable one is androgyny.

In Play: Many people do avoid strictly masculine and feminine clothing and hair styles for whatever their reason: "With their androgynous hair styles and clothing, it is difficult to tell Mr. and Mrs. Farthingsworth apart." In biology, however, the term refers to organisms with both sexes: "With the growing death of bee populations in North America, only androgynous plants may be able to survive."

Word History: Today's Good Word is the English makeover of Greek androgynos "hermaphrodite", comprising andros "man" + gyne "woman". The Greeks always inserted a meaningless O between words in their compound words, which we see in this one. Greek is the only Indo-European language that contains andros, so its origin is mysterious. Greek did, however, have two variants of this root, which we shouldn't confuse. Andros means "man, adult male" while anthropos means "man, human being". As we mentioned in our comments on misogyny, you may attach the prefix mis- to either; however, misanthropy means "hatred of all people", while misandry, based on andros, means "hatred of all men". (We have no grudge against men, and today we are particularly delighted by Robert Scala's decision to suggest today's Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword, alphaDictionary.com

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