1.I read in a grammar book that the gender neutral word for alumna/alumnus is "alum", but I couldn't find the word anywhere else.The word alum also means-a specific chemical compound.So is the usage of "alum" common enough for me to use it?

2.Can someone suggest me a gender neutral word for air hostess?


4 Answers 4

  1. "Alum" is the singular, gender-neutral term for someone who has graduated from an educational institution. It is used more commonly than alumna or alumnus. Alumni is the plural form.

  2. "Flight attendant" is the appropriate gender-neutral term.

  • How is the word "alum" pronounced?
    – asterisk
    Jul 15, 2014 at 20:17
  • 4
    It's pronounced "ah-lum" with stress on the "lum."
    – Obfuskater
    Jul 15, 2014 at 20:19
  • 2
    Note that "alum" is informal: it's slang, although fairly well accepted slang.
    – Ben Kovitz
    Dec 13, 2014 at 22:32
  • Can you provide a citation for "more commonly"? Nov 3, 2015 at 0:02

Alum in this sense is pronounced like the first two syllables of alumnus/alumna: /əˈlʌm/ uh-LUM, with stress on the second syllable. It is not pronounced the same way as alum the chemical compound, which has stress on the first syllable: /ˈæləm/ AL-um. They are different words that happen to be homographs.

The Oxford English dictionary says

Originally in nonstandard use, or as a graphic abbreviation. Now usually as a gender-neutral alternative to alumnus n. or alumna n.

The first two citations show a spelling with n; the second one has a period, fitting with the description of the form as a graphic abbreviation.

1877 tr. J. H. Balfour in Upsala Universitets Fyrahundraårs Jubelfest (1879) 49 The earnest hope, that..Sweden may continue to send forth many alumns who shall do credit to her great Educational Institutions.

1894 Alumni Rep. (Philadelphia Coll. Pharm. Alumni Assoc.) 132/2 The establishment of a microscopical laboratory..the members of the Executive Board of the Alumn. Association..would strongly favor the same.

However, by the 20th century, the OED quotations include forms spelled without n that look more like phonetic clippings that would actually be used in pronunciation:

1928 Chicago Daily Tribune 13 Dec. 37/1 The local Harvard ‘alums’ have a number of parties in the incipient stage of planning.

1974 State (Columbia, S. Carolina) 15 Feb. 1- b/1 Streaking is darting out (unexpectedly) in the nude.., preferably..in front of a carload of staid old alums.

Latin has a number of words that change form based on their gender. For words like alumnus, aluma, there is no Latin form that is explicitly gender-neutral or unspecified for gender. The masculine singular form (alumnus) can be found used in some cases for an unspecified individual, and the masculine plural (alumni) for a mixed or unspecified group; the male-specific and generic uses of the masculine form can only be distinguished by context. The generic use of masculine-gender nouns has been argued to be sexist, so many organizations now avoid it. This avoidance is not based on ignorance of the generic use of masculine forms, but on an objection to this usage.

Latin has a neuter gender, but this is not the same thing as a gender-neutral form. Latin words of the neuter gender are not used to refer to a person of unspecified gender any more than it in English is used to refer to a person of unspecified gender. So the use of alumnum in the sense "an alumnus or alumna" is not precedented in Latin.


I never took Latin, but if I read it correctly, my dictionary seems to suggest "alumnum" as a neutral noun. It came up when a friend who identifies as gender neutral wanted to use the plural "alumni." Thoughts?

  • 1
    I just looked it up and found that alumnum really is the Latin neuter form, but the term doesn't seem to exist in English. The OED has no record of it. So, if you said it in English, you'd risk the embarrassment of trying to say a big word and getting it wrong. (Is there a word for that?) On the other hand, it might be possible to establish the word as legitimate, just by using it.
    – Ben Kovitz
    Dec 13, 2014 at 22:43
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    But back on the first hand, deliberately extending the language is surely way too advanced for people still learning English.
    – Ben Kovitz
    Dec 13, 2014 at 22:47

There is no neuter (gender-neutral) form of the noun alumnus/a, only masculine and feminine forms. "Alumnus" is an individual male graduate and "alumna" is an individual female graduate. A group of male graduates are "alumni," and a group of female graduates are "alumnae."

For a group of graduates comprised of both men and women (which is what I think the question is attempting to determine), the masculine plural "alumni" is used. Hence, schools have alumni organizations, alumni events, etc.

There is no such word as "alum," although I've seen people use it. The word probably started as someone's misguided effort to employ a gender-neutral term because he was unaware of the applicability of "alumni" to mixed-gender groups.

"Alumnum" is the neuter form of the adjective alumnus ("fostered" or "nurtured"), not the noun alumnus that is the focus of the question above.


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