Rantings of a sub-editor

October 2, 2010

Blond on blonde

Filed under: blond/blonde,spelling — substuff @ 9:52 am
Tags: , ,

Now I thought I knew all about blond and blonde. And so did an acquaintance, which was why he triumphantly emailed me this link to an article on Guardian.co.uk. It’s about the guitar-wielding Alice Gold, who is described as having “a mane of blond hair” (the cliché police must have been sleeping that day).

Yeah, yeah, I thought, so they’ve left off an “e”. It’s not the end of the world. But as I was frittering around at the time, I looked it up anyway – and I got a bit of a surprise. Now I have always thought it was a simple rule: blond for men, blonde for women, whether as an adjective or a noun. Not that you’d often have cause to refer to a man as “a blond”.

But lo! What is this, in the Guardian’s style guide?

adjective and male noun; blonde female noun: the woman is a blonde, because she has blond hair; the man has blond hair and is, if you insist, a blond

Goodness. So they would call Marilyn Monroe a “blond bombshell” rather than a “blonde bombshell”? This shook my world a little, so I checked The Times’s style guide too. It said, simply:

blond for men, blonde for women

This made me feel a little better, but I still wasn’t completely satisfied. I looked it up in my Oxford Shorter Dictionary at home, which has never let me down before, but the explanation was so incomprehensible (even after three readings and a second opinion) that it didn’t help at all.

Collins is clearer. It accepts both blond and blonde as adjectives and nouns, but specifies that blond is masculine:

blonde or (masc) blond adj 1 (of hair) of a light colour; fair 2 (of a people or a race) having fair hair, a light complexion, and, typically, blue or grey eyes noun 3 a person having light-coloured hair and skin [c15 from OF blond (fem blonde), prob. of Gmc origin]

So… I failed to find confirmation for my own understanding that there was a strict gender divide between the two. But I also failed to find any reason for the entry in the Guardian’s style guide. Is it connected to the avoidance of feminine designations  (the Guardian uses “actor” for both actors and actresses, and so on)? But that doesn’t quite explain it – surely they would then use blond for the noun too. I am most confused. Does anyone else know (or care)?



  1. Is The Guardian‘s rationale that “hair” is (when translated to cheveu(x) in French) masculine?

    Still, a big shock to my pedantry circuits. Let’s just never use the word of anything having a different gender from the person possessing it!

    Comment by Rick Role — October 2, 2010 @ 10:59 am | Reply

    • We did wonder about that, but realised quite quickly that no-one present was multilingual enough to take it beyond the wondering stage!

      Comment by substuff — October 2, 2010 @ 2:59 pm | Reply

  2. Our sparse Style Guide entry is a boiling-down of what is in the Collins, and tries to keep it simple (honest, guv). Monroe was undoubtedly a blonde bombshell – she was a blonde and it can be argued that we are using the feminine noun adjectivally. A bombshell could be male or female (why does it/he/she have to be masculine?). I think it would be perverse to describe a blonde (female) as having blond rather than blonde hair. On the other hand, we would describe Norwegians as a nation of blonds in general, on the basis of the masculine taking precedence, but would say that many Norwegian women are blondes. By the way, for the record, I aspire to be a gentleman but do not limit my concept of pulchritude in the barnet department to one narrow part of the palette.

    Comment by Richard Dixon — October 2, 2010 @ 2:04 pm | Reply

    • Are you sure a bombshell can be male or female? This also came up in our discussion, and we came to the unanimous conclusion that bombshell-ness required ample bosom. I can’t imagine describing a man as a bombshell, except as a joke. But then… maybe in Brighton!

      Bizarre. I learnt the word pulchritude yesterday, and here it is again. Always seems to happen like that.

      Comment by substuff — October 2, 2010 @ 3:03 pm | Reply

  3. Re: Guardian style guide – must be a typo…

    Comment by Freelance Unbound — October 2, 2010 @ 6:36 pm | Reply

  4. Pop up a correction explaining that the copy editor had experienced a “blonde moment” and made a mistake. Actually, don’t. The staff of the Guardian would consider it such a humorous jape that they would unanimously insist that you be made editor of the paper and you don’t need that kind of responsibility.

    Comment by Michael Reed — October 3, 2010 @ 8:34 am | Reply

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