Freshman or first-year? Our class will probably never reach a consensus on the issue of our collective status. The reason for this polarizing debate is the same reason for all arguments nowadays: discrimination in the form of sexism.
To some, the fact that “freshman” is used without any corresponding feminine term is an appalling representation of the ongoing subjugation of women, even in the 21st century. To them, “first-year” is preferable because it is sexless, and therefore a moderate alternative. The cause for change is understandable but irrational.
The meanings of words change with every novel usage and every new context. The word “woman,” for example, came from “wífmon,” a compound of the Old English words for wife and man, and it was originally considered a masculine word. Over the years it was simplified to “wimman,” then “womman,” before arriving to the word we use today.
Despite its etymology, the word is not generally offensive because connotations have changed. Should we rewrite our dictionaries to make asexual all of the words that make the feminine gender seem like an addendum to the masculine — words like “female” or “human” — or maybe even “person,” with a stretch of the imagination?
I don’t think so. Women should take linguistic units like “man” and “male” as a part of the English language that may have once been an example of the lower status of women but now represent the change in our understanding of gender equality.