The Independent's journalism is supported by our readers. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn commission. 

The Top 10: Adjectives Usually Used of Women

Words that tend not to be used about men

John Rentoul
Saturday 29 September 2018 11:15 BST
Carrie Symonds, paramour of Boris Johnson, was described as ‘flirty’ by The Daily Telegraph
Carrie Symonds, paramour of Boris Johnson, was described as ‘flirty’ by The Daily Telegraph (Getty)

Support truly
independent journalism

Our mission is to deliver unbiased, fact-based reporting that holds power to account and exposes the truth.

Whether $5 or $50, every contribution counts.

Support us to deliver journalism without an agenda.

Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


I tried to do this years ago but was distracted by questions of etymology – feisty coming from the German “fist”, a small excitable dog. I was prompted to return to it by the description of Carrie Symonds, Boris Johnson’s paramour, as “flirty” by The Daily Telegraph. This list started off as “adjectives used only of women”, but every search turned up a large minority of uses referring to men.

1. Feisty. Easily the most popular nomination, although a quick search established that it is often used in reporting men’s sport. Thomas Bjorn, a golfer, “can be feisty and gnomic”, according to The Times, and Alfredo Morelos “was a strong and feisty addition” to the Rangers team.

2. Flirty. Again, generally used of women, but in the popular press men are always sending “flirty texts”.

3. Ditsy. Nominated by Mary Elwin.

4. High maintenance. Thanks to Sirena Bergman. Also often used of male footballers, such as in several recent references to Paul Pogba.

5. Bossy. Nominated by Sean O’Grady. Although I did come across an article by a woman complaining of her bossy husband-to-be.

6. Needy. Another -y word, suggested by Teri. Although, again, a search brought up the stereotypical divorcé, a “needy, conflicted man”, and Andrea Mantegna, the painter, described as feeling “quite needy”.

7. Slovenly. From Mary Elwin again. Also popular in male sports reporting – a “slovenly pass” – although men tend to be slobbish.

8. Fey. Old English, “fated to die soon”. Nominated by Sarah Kelly.

9. Bubbly. I don’t know what it is about Pogba, but he was described as “bubbly” the other day.

10. Assertive. Nominated by David Sutherland.

There is always one, and this week it is James Farrar, who nominated “female”.

Next week: Fluffed lines, in memory of Vince Cable, who delivered “erotic spasm” as “exotic spresm” in his Lib Dem conference speech

Coming soon: British Place-Name Pronunciations for the Unwary, such as Trotiscliffe, pronounced Trosley

The e-book of Top 10s, Listellany, is still available for £4.74

Your suggestions please, and ideas for future Top 10s, to me on Twitter, or by email to

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in