1. Since the 14c the word has been primarily a grammatical term denoting groups of nouns in terms of their being masculine, feminine, or neuter. In the earliest form of English (Old English or Anglo-Saxon, c. 740 to 1066), nouns fell into three classes, masculine, feminine, and neuter: stān (stone) was masculine, giefu (gift) was feminine, and scip (ship) was neuter. The definite article and most adjectives varied to accord with the gender of the accompanying noun, as they still do in other languages. By the end of the 11c, this system was lost. In modern English grammatical gender exists only in the singular personal pronouns he, she, it, his, hers, its, etc., and in some feminine endings such as -ess, -ette (imported from French), and -ine.
2. Although nouns associated with female and male persons and animals are generally feminine or masculine as appropriate, grammatical gender and sexual gender do not have a complete correspondence in any language, which accounts for some of the anomalies that can cause offence in our modern gender-sensitive age (e.g. in referring to vehicles as she).
3. The evidence in the OED shows that the term gender was also used as a term meaning ‘the sex of a person’, although the OED editors (1899) marked this as ‘now only jocular’. Since the 1960s this meaning has come back into regular use, especially among feminists, to emphasize ‘the social and cultural, as opposed to the biological, distinctions between the sexes’ (OED2, 1989). This revival, which is a useful one, has given rise to many new compound expressions, including gender bias, gender difference, gender discrimination, gender equality, gender gap, gender imbalance, gender identity, gender model, gender politics, gender role, gender-specific, and gender stereotpye; and academic disciplines now include the field of gender studies.

Modern English usage. 2014.

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