Our Male Coworkers Have No Idea What Taffeta, Taupe, or Tresses Are

For years romantic comedies, ’80s dating manuals, standup comedians, and our own mothers have tried to convince us that men and women speak entirely different languages: men like to sport sports with their sporting muscles, women be shoppin’ and be klutzy and be drinkin’ wine and be engagin’ in healthy dialogue about their feelings; how can the two ever see eye to eye?!?! (Eye to Eye, a rom com about two optometrists who fall in love, starring Sandra Bullock and Hugh Grant, hitting theaters in Fall 2014!) Now science has entered the The Fray-soundtracked fray and it seems that the Nora Ephrons of the world may have been onto something.

According to data analysis from the Center for Reading Research, some English words have large recognition gaps between the sexes, i.e. women are more likely to recognize one word, men another. The assessment examined the first 500,000 results of a computer-based vocabulary test:

In the online test, 100 letter sequences — which may or may not be real English words — flash across the taker’s screen. Pressing the “f” or “j” keys, respectively, will indicate whether the participant knows, but not necessarily understands, a specific word. The test strongly penalizing for marking you know a word that doesn’t exist.

After focusing on differences in gender, researchers found that men were more familiar with words having to do with transportation, weapons, and science, while women recognize words relating to fashion, art, and plant life. Because we are amateur scientists (and because it’s a Monday and we couldn’t bear staring at our laptops one more minute), we decided to put the Center’s results to the test. After arbitrarily selecting some of the words with the biggest reported gender margins, we asked our coworkers to work their way through our makeshift list, women defining the “male words” (the words the Center said men were more likely to recognize) and men defining the “female words” (vice versa). When someone didn’t know the word in question, we asked them to guess its meaning. The results were hilarious and edifying.

First up, the ladies’ test:

Golem: noun a clay figure brought to life by magic
Number Of Ladies Who Knew What It Was: 5 out of 9
Incorrect Guesses:
“A Lord of the Rings character”
“Something in The Hobbit
“A city in Gulliver’s Travels

Humvee: noun a type of four-wheel-drive all-terrain military vehicle
Number Of Ladies Who Knew What It Was: 8
Incorrect (Kind of) Guesses:
“I want to say that’s a car, but I know it’s not”

Mach: noun a measure of speed relative to the speech of sound
Number Of Ladies Who Knew What It Was: 4
Incorrect Guesses:
“A razor”
“A technical term?”
“A unit of awesomeness for planes”

Claymore: noun a two-edged broadsword used by Scottish Highlanders
Number Of Ladies Who Knew What It Was: 3
Incorrect Guesses:
“A cousin of Kevlar”
“A tree”
“Someone’s last name”
“The creation of elves”
“A man-made material”
“Sounds like a character from Game of Thrones

Kevlar: noun a synthetic fiber of high strength used as a reinforcing agent and in protective gear like bulletproof vests
Number Of Ladies Who Knew What It Was: 5
Incorrect Guesses:
“The celebrity portmanteau that would be used if that guy from Metallic and Macaulay Culkin were dating”
“An ingredient in a protein shake”

Paladin: noun a knight renowned for heroism and chivalry
Number of Ladies Who Knew What It Was: 3
Incorrect Guesses:
“A planet in Star Wars
“A homonym of Paula Deen”
“Okay, this was for sure a senior-year vocabulary word…”
“The restaurant in Jurassic Park
“Some kind of medicine”
“An emperor”

Dreadnought: noun a type of battleship
Number Of Ladies Who Knew What It Was: 3
Incorrect Guesses:
“When your dreads get knotted?”
“When your deadlocks are tangled because you got into a fight about cultural appropriation”
“A pirate thing”
“Poison similar to what Cersei was about to give to Tommen during the Battle of the Blackwater”

Codec: noun a device or computer program capable of encoding or decoding a digital data stream
Number Of Ladies Who Knew What It Was: 4
Incorrect Guesses:
“Something to do with HTML”
“Something you put your dates on”
“Sounds like a nickname like Kojack”
“Don’t we use that?”

Scimitar: noun a short sword with a curved blade
Number Of Ladies Who Knew What It Was: 3
Incorrect Guesses:
“A tiny guitar”
“A Jewish advice column”
“A Sim that looks like it was in Avatar
“Related to the keytar”

And now, the gentlemen:

Taffeta: noun a crisp, smooth, plain woven fabric made from silk or cuprammonium rayons.
Number Of Dudes Who Knew What It Was: 2 out of 7
Incorrect Guesses:
“Some kind of cheese”
“A flower”
“Something to do with food”
“Something to do with marriage”

Tresses: noun a long lock of a woman’s hair
Number Of Dudes Who Knew What It Was: 2
Incorrect Guesses:
“A clothing thing. Something on a dress, like pleats”
“A specific kind of pleat”
“Shoes?”
“Chocolate”

Flouncy: adjective gathered and pleated
Number Of Dudes Who Knew What It Was: 3
Incorrect Guesses:
“Fish”
“An adjective my mom would use”
“Flowery”

Decoupage: noun the art of decorating surfaces by applying cutouts (as of paper) and then coating with usually several layers of finish
Number Of Dudes Who Knew What It Was: 4 1/2
Incorrect Guesses:
“Another fashion thing — like a way of wearing your hair”
“A French resort town”

Progesterone: noun a steroid hormone released by the corpus luteum that stimulates the uterus to prepare for pregnancy
Number Of Dudes Who Knew What It Was: 6
Incorrect Guesses:
“Fancy Progresso”

Wisteria: noun a genus of flowering plants in the pea family
Number Of Dudes Who Knew What It Was: 3
Incorrect Guesses:
“A disease”
“I have no concept of what this would mean”
“A street on Desperate Housewives” (Ed’s Note: Four different men gave this answer)

Taupe: noun a color, gray with a tinge of brown
Number Of Dudes Who Knew What It Was: 5
Incorrect Guesses:
“A hairstyle? Like a haircut?”

Peony: noun a herbaceous or shrubby plant known for its showy flowers.
Number Of Dudes Who Knew What It Was: 6
Incorrect Guesses:
“It’s not a peon, right?”

Bodice: noun an article of clothing for women, covering the body from the neck to the waist; the upper portion of a modern dress to distinguish it from the skirt and sleeves.
Number Of Dudes Who Knew What It Was: 3
Incorrect Guesses:
“A thing chicks wear to keep their boobs together”
“A wrap-around type of garment?”
“I see that word on the Internet all the time”

For the record, only one man correctly defined all of words on his list, i.e. the so-called women’s words. Three ladies knew every “male word” we quizzed them on. (Big ups to the ladies of our sister site, The Mary Sue!)

Related Links:
Having a ‘Basic’ Lover Can Be More Toxic Than You Think, According to *Science*
Science: Good Hair Days are Real and Make You Feel Like a Boss
Are Selfies Good or Bad for You? Here’s What Science Says

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