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At the Mind Your Language blog at The Guardian, Maddie York is fulminating over woman used as an adjective:

"I am a subeditor at the Guardian. I am a woman. I am not a woman subeditor. But 'woman' and its plural seem to be taking over the role of modifier, so that now, there is no such thing, as far as much of the media is* concerned, as a female doctor, a female MP or a female chef. Instead you hear or read about a woman doctor, a woman MP and so on."

She senses condescension: "There would be no real problem if we used both 'woman' and 'man' as modifiers, but we don’t, so the implication is that a “woman manager” is a modification of the standard or natural form, or something slightly less than the full version. It behaves like 'junior': doctor, woman doctor, junior doctor, for example. Doctor – male implied – is the standard, woman and junior the variants. They are the not-quite-doctors."
And she has backup: "As far as the Guardian style guide is concerned, it is simply wrong to use 'woman' and 'women' in this way, because, it says, they are not adjectives." 
Let's take a moment to unpack where Ms York is right-headed and wrong-headed. 

I'm sure that a subeditor at The Guardian is aware of English's polymorphous parts of speech. You can insist that woman is a noun and not an adjective, but that doesn't make it so. English freely makes use of nouns as adjectives: have you sat in a window seat or closed a cellar door? So the "not an adjective" stuff is merely careless overstating of "I don't like using it as an adjective.

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Then there's the recency illusion. Dave Wilton responds at Word Origins to Ms. York's article by pointing out that woman has long since been used as an adjective, pointing to an example in Wycliffite translation of the Bible in the late fourteen century, along with any number of later examples.

As to Ms. York's personal tastes, tastes vary. When women were first ordained to the priesthood in the Episcopal Church forty years ago,** woman priest was the term many of them favored, because the use of female as a noun (another polymorphous part of speech) for non-human species ("the female of the species is more deadly than the male") carries disagreeable overtones.

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Ms. York is, however, on to something when she sniffs for sexist condescension. After all, "woman driver" was a staple leitmotif for hack comedians of the 1950s and 1960s, and we have discarded poetess. But now that the Church of England has belatedly figured out that once you ordain a woman a priest there is no obstacle to consecrating her as a bishop, women in miters will be a novelty, and woman bishop will be a handy term for talking and writing about them.

Ms. York and the Guardian's style guide are entitled to their preferences, but if they want to impose them on the rest of us, they will need better arguments.

Addendum: A comment on Facebook by Ian Loveless clarifies the technical point:

Believe it or not, nouns can, will, and do modify other nouns attributively. There is no need to reclassify every noun in the dictionary as an adjective just so we can explain how they can do this. Furthermore, these types of modifiers fail every test for an adjective devised by linguists, specifically modification by an adverb (she can't be a "very woman" doctor) and gradation (she can't be "womaner" than her sister). As Geoffrey Pullum says, "A noun is a noun".

 

*I believe that the Guardian style guide holds that media is a plural.

**I am pleased to be able to say that I attended the first public Eucharist in Syracuse, N.Y., at which the "irregularly" ordained Rev. Betty Bone Schiess presided.

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