July 24, 2017 7:32 AM   Subscribe

UK-English speakers: I'm looking for a female equivalent of the word "fellow" (as in bloke or chap, not an academic holding a fellowship). Lass is, in my view, really only the opposite of lad. The only other thing I can think of is "gal" but that just doesn't feel right. What am I missing?
posted by orrnyereg to Writing & Language (22 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
posted by phunniemee at 7:49 AM on July 24, 2017 [2 favorites]

In my experience of how it was / is used, I'd boringly just suggest 'girl' or 'woman'. The contexts I'm thinking of here are conversations among upper / upper middle class people I know and how they refer to a man / boy or woman / girl.
posted by dowcrag at 7:57 AM on July 24, 2017

Bird or hen (ie hen party)
posted by ananci at 7:58 AM on July 24, 2017

There's a big distinction between 'fellow' (posh) and 'fella' (not posh) in which I'd agree: bird, hen etc. become valid alternatives.
posted by dowcrag at 8:00 AM on July 24, 2017

Dame is pretty close - and it shares the same rather archaic feel as "fellow" - but in the UK it is assumed to be an American word in the context of talking about a woman rather than somebody in a pantomime.

"Sister" maybe?
posted by rongorongo at 8:05 AM on July 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

"Fellow" is either old-fashioned or jokingly formal slang in 2017. Given that, the closest equivalent is "ladies". Depending on the context, "chapesses" (as in "chaps and chapesses") may make more sense.

I wouldn't use any of these words (including "ladies") in normal conversation by the way.

"Bird" is a bit too casual/abusive/sexist IMO. "Hen" is particular to Scotland. "Dame" and "sister" are both American.
posted by caek at 8:14 AM on July 24, 2017 [2 favorites]

There's no linguistic rule that requires every masculine-sounding term to have a feminine equivalent. There may be no answer to your question. Context (i.e., where are you going to put the word in question) might help here.
posted by JimN2TAW at 8:18 AM on July 24, 2017 [4 favorites]

To echo JimN2TAW, for instance, I would sing, "For she's a jolly good fellow..." etc.
posted by Night_owl at 8:23 AM on July 24, 2017 [2 favorites]

Okay to provide context, this is for my project of editing LOTR to make Frodo into a girl. At the end of Two Towers Frodo gets captured by orcs, who discuss him (in the third person) as "this fellow" or "little fellow". I would characterize its use as condescending but not per-se insulting. Would it be strange to leave fellow intact?
posted by orrnyereg at 8:31 AM on July 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

Bird is NOT the gender antonym of 'fellow' - it's much more vulgar. 'Hen' is not used outside the context of 'hen party', except in Scotland (and again, it's not UMC slang).

LOTR is a fantasy setting, so it doesn't need to be exact to British English usage, but for the kind of meaning you're going for 'little lady' would work.
posted by mippy at 8:34 AM on July 24, 2017 [17 favorites]

'Lass' works as well - I'm sure I've seen it used in fantasy-medieval settings.
posted by mippy at 8:35 AM on July 24, 2017 [12 favorites]

"For she's a jolly good fellow..." etc. kind of works because in that context "fellow" means "friend" or "companion" and it expresses the singers' feelings rather than focusing on the honoree. In the Frodo context, though, the orcs somehow seem more focused on Frodo's personal nature. Mippy's "little lady" works well to my ear.
posted by JimN2TAW at 8:36 AM on July 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

Mippy has it, now that you've provided the context. Just right.
posted by dowcrag at 8:51 AM on July 24, 2017

People who grew up where I live (PNW) use "gal" a lot.
posted by humboldt32 at 8:57 AM on July 24, 2017

Damsel is sometimes used, but I'm not sure about the context here since orcs might not be so polite as to use either it or lady, though little lady does have a nice little bit of diminishment to it on the "little", so it could work.
posted by gusottertrout at 9:01 AM on July 24, 2017

In the LOTR context you describe, I concur that lass is the best choice.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:04 AM on July 24, 2017 [2 favorites]

If it's for LOTR, you can take advantage of Tolkien's devotion to philology. According to these guys, the use of "fellow" as referring specifically to a man only began in the 15th century. So "fellow" is the best word for your female Frodo.
posted by hammurderer at 9:25 AM on July 24, 2017 [2 favorites]

At least here in Ireland, the female-specific word I'd hear used in that context is "one" (sometimes spelled "wan"), or maybe "young one". It's a little slangy, along the lines of "bird" or "hen" above, but if it's an orc saying it...
posted by rollick at 9:29 AM on July 24, 2017 [2 favorites]

"Who's this little one?"
posted by trig at 10:00 AM on July 24, 2017 [3 favorites]

Round here women who want to be all backslapping and matey with each other use the masculine terms 'Mate'. 'Du(uuu)de'. 'Er, guys?'

Dialect-wise, up North there's 'Me marra' which is unisex and there's also 'Bonny lass', equivalent to 'mate'. Masc. is 'Bonny lad.' Oh yeah, then there's 'hen' which is north or south from where I've been.

I nearly forgot, 'queen.' Dialect for 'woman' in Bristol AND in Aberdeen. 'How yer doin queen?' says my neighbour to me quite frequently. Scandi 'kvinna', 'kvinne'.

On reading the question properly: sprog.
posted by glasseyes at 10:32 AM on July 24, 2017

Interestingly 'bird' is from 'burd' and like 'queen' once just meant woman.
posted by glasseyes at 10:36 AM on July 24, 2017

Thanks to everybody who chimed in -- I like to think that Tolkien would smile at us nerding out over etymology.

Since "fellow" gets used several times in this section of the story I've decided to use both "little lady" and "lass" so as not to get too repetitive. And you all were right: it does flow nicely. Really I ought to have thought of it myself as these same orcs snidely refer to Shelob as "Her Ladyship". [Uh, spoiler alert?]
posted by orrnyereg at 6:51 PM on July 24, 2017

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