Some time ago, Paris police launched a manhunt for three gunmen.

But, what if there are three women who carry guns, shoot and escape, is it still appropriate to say "manhunt for three gunmen"? Will it have to be "womanhunt for three gunwomen"?

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    Manhunt is the general term, as illustrated by @Jasper. Apparently people, including feminists, are fine with it, since males commit most violent crimes. And you would have to know that it was solely female perpetrators before using womanhunt or gunwomen made sense.
    – user6951
    Feb 23, 2015 at 16:22
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    It's man as in human. Nothing to do with gender or crime rates.
    – JamesRyan
    Feb 23, 2015 at 17:42
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    @JamesRyan: it's not really though, since "human" is from Latin "humanus" whereas "manhunt" is a modern (1830-ish) coinage man+hunt. So it's "man" as in "man". Which in English (as opposed to OE) is ambiguous as to whether it means both genders or just one. But Latin doesn't have "man", and "human" isn't "hu+man", or is it? Feb 24, 2015 at 1:25
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    @SteveJessop - RE: "So it's 'man' as in 'man'..." Perhaps so, but the noun man has two distinct meanings, right? So, I think JamesRyan's point is spot on.
    – J.R.
    Feb 24, 2015 at 10:09
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    @vsz This is the typical straw man fallacy. "man" is "man" + "hunt", but "manager" is not "man" + "ager".
    – Alexia
    Feb 24, 2015 at 14:35

5 Answers 5


Yes, you would still use the word "manhunt". For example, a review of Thelma & Louise includes this quote:

Ridley Scott’s 1991 road movie Thelma & Louise is often cited as the singular feminist movie of the decade, but in reality it’s so much more than that. Geena Davis plays Thelma, a housewife stuck in a mundane marriage. Sarandon plays Louise, a waitress who always finds herself alone while her musician husband is out on the road. The two decide to take a road trip but soon become fugitive when Louise shoots and kills a man who attempts to rape Thelma. Soon, they find themselves the targets of a massive federal manhunt.

According to Google NGrams, "manhunt" is about 600 times more common than "womanhunt". Similarly, "gunman" is about 600 times more common than "gunwoman". Whereas "armed man" is only about 12 times more common than "armed woman". Google NGrams does not find "female gunman" at all.

Men are much more likely to commit crimes using guns than women, so it is hard to find descriptions of female gunmen. Here is an example of an author using a phrase to avoid choosing between "female gunmen" or "gunwomen":

  • Nice Girls With Guns: Kingwood High friends say the girls were "Sweet." Adults say "Well-Mannered." Cops say "armed robbers."
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    +1 for locating a corroborative quotation ... but what about the "gunwomen" piece? Feb 23, 2015 at 16:16

Man is derived from a term that was gender neutral and this sense persists today in many terms, such as manslaughter, so manhunt is the correct term to use.

If you wish to find a gender neutral alternative to "gunman" and a more specific term such as "armed robber" is not appropriate, the term "shooter" can be used. This is a widely used term(more common even than gunman) and has become much more frequent in recent years. The term "Active Shooter" is defined by the U.S.Department of Homeland Security as ""an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area" and would be appropriate in this instance.

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    But note that "gunman" describes someone who carried or is presumed to be carrying a gun. It does not imply that the individual actually fired the gun, so "shooter" is not necessarily appropriate. Feb 24, 2015 at 2:35
  • I don't think the phrase "armed and dangerous" is the equivalent of "gunman." Gunman almost always refers to someone who has used a gun, not someone who is merely a firearms owner or who happens to have a firearm in an unlocked suitcase nearby.
    – user26732
    Feb 24, 2015 at 18:53
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    "Used" does not mean "fired". If a robber holds up a bank by pointing a gun at a teller, he is a gunman. He is not a shooter. Feb 24, 2015 at 22:12

My humble opinion, as I am a not-mother-tongue-English-speaker, is "man" is coming from mankind which designates an human being, male or female. So manhunt will be appropriate regardless the sex of the hunted. I guess the same applies to "gunman" which is the same regardless if the gun bearer is male or female. Try polling a dictionary with the term "gunwoman".

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    You're assuming that feminists accept the idea of the word "man" being a generic term that includes both males and females. They don't. That's the whole point of many feminist language campaigns. They campaigned against "policeman" and "fireman" and "longshoreman" exactly because they rejected that idea.
    – Jay
    Feb 24, 2015 at 14:25
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    Even more entertaining is the (minority) claim for "womyn" and "herstory". This is a mark of fairly radical beliefs, but it has happened. Feb 24, 2015 at 14:34
  • I don't understand why they don't instead simply add a new word "goman" or something for "man" and insist on using "man" as a gender-neutral term... that would simplify matters considerably, no? Feb 25, 2015 at 0:47
  • @snailboat: As are suggestions for "womyn" and "herstory", no? Feb 25, 2015 at 3:51

It's perfectly acceptable to use terminology that implies a gender if you attach a male term to something negative or a female term to something positive. It's only sexist when your words imply that something positive must be male or something negative must be female. :-)

In the 1920s the female equivalent of a "gunman" was a "gun moll".

I have never heard anyone say "womanhunt" or "gunwoman". If someone was worried about implying that the person with the gun is male when that person's sex is unknown, they'd probably say, "A search for the suspect" rather than "A personhunt for the guncreature".

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    Many women dislike being referred to as men, regardless of whether you do so in a complimentary way. "My, you're a dashing young lad!" Manhunt doesn't imply a gender, though, so that's not the issue.
    – user230
    Feb 23, 2015 at 20:50
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    But be aware that, for some extreme feminists, Manhunt does imply gender. And they don't like it. Feb 23, 2015 at 21:40
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    @snailboat "Manhunt doesn't imply gender." Feminists have succeeded in having "policeman" changed to "police officer" and "fireman" changed to "fire fighter". I've heard feminists object to the word "history" because it begins with the masculine pronoun "his". If they don't object to "manhunt", it's not because it's a "generic 'man' that includes both genders" and is therefore okay.
    – Jay
    Feb 24, 2015 at 14:22

The word means "human hunt", not "male hunt". The man- part of the word is meant in the larger generic sense, not the gender-specific sense.

I suppose in certain circumstances it could be used as a humorous double entendre, with the interpretation in your more limited sense furnishing the pun. For example, a group of ladies out for a night on the town might say they are on a manhunt.

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