The Words That Are Most Known to Only Men or Women

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June 23 2014 12:07 PM

The Words That Are Most Known to Only Men or Women

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What is this weapon called? Men are more likely to know.

Photo By Steve Finn/Getty Images

This post first appeared in Business Insider.

Most people believe gender influences conversation. Men might discuss cars, while women gab about fashion. As it turns out, there's some truth to the stereotypes, according to data analysis from the Center for Reading Research, which we saw on /r/linguistics

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Center director Mark Brysbaert looked at the first 500,000 results of the Ghent University's online vocabulary test, focusing on differences in gender. Some words exhibited a large margin between the percent of men and women who reported knowing them. 

In the online test, 100 letter sequences — which may or may not be real English words —  flash across the taker's screen. Pressing the "f" or "j" keys, respectively, will indicate whether the participant knows, but not necessarily understands, a specific word. The test strongly penalized you for marking that you know a word "doesn't exist". 

We listed the words with the biggest recognition gap between gender below, along with numbers in parenthesis showing the percentage of men who knew the word followed by the percentage of women.

Here are the words that men were most likely to recognize over women:

  • codec (88, 48)
  • solenoid (87, 54)
  • golem (89, 56)
  • mach (93, 63)
  • humvee (88, 58)
  • claymore (87, 58)
  • scimitar (86, 58)
  • kevlar (93, 65)
  • paladin (93, 66)
  • bolshevism (85, 60)
  • biped (86, 61)
  • dreadnought (90, 66)

And here are the words that women were most likely to know over men:

  • taffeta (48, 87)
  • tresses (61, 93)
  • bottlebrush (58, 89)
  • flouncy (55, 86)
  • mascarpone (60, 90)
  • decoupage (56, 86)
  • progesterone (63, 92)
  • wisteria (61, 89)
  • taupe (66, 93)
  • flouncing (67, 94)
  • peony (70, 96)
  • bodice (71, 96)

The male words tend to center on transportation, weapons, and science, while the female words mostly relate to fashion, art, and flowers. Preconceived notions prevail, we guess. The commenters on the Reddit thread, however, introduced some valid counterpoints. User drmacj brought up the massive variability present in adult vocabulary, regardless of gender. Culture, location, and education play significant roles. 

"And not to mention these words only apply in a very limited socioeconomic context," user hoochie_minh wrote. Based on the center's research, however, the findings remain statistically significant. 

Christina Sterbenz is a reporter for Business Insider. Follow her on Twitter.

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