Jeffrey Toobin’s profile of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in The New Yorker includes this choice example of the value of choosing the right words for one’s readership:
“I was doing all these sex-discrimination cases, and my secretary said, ‘I look at these pages and all I see is sex, sex, sex. The judges are men, and when they read that they’re not going to be thinking about what you want them to think about,’ ” Ginsburg recalled. Henceforth, she changed her claim to “gender discrimination.”English speakers get to refer to most objects as neuter, and don’t need to adjust adjectival forms to fit accordingly. As a result, we had little need for the concept of “gender” outside of people’s (or animals’) biological sexes.
At the same time, we’d replaced a perfectly understandable Anglo-Saxon monosyllable with the Latinate “have sexual intercourse,” and then boiled that back down to a monosyllable, “sex.” That meant Ginsburg as an attorney had one fine word, “gender,” hardly being used, and another fine word, “sex,” pulling double duty.
What’s more, she was arguing before a court that included Justice Potter Stewart, whose most famous formulation for the law books was a remark about pornography. His quick judgment about what he saw had legal weight, and, as Ginsburg and her team suspected, that might have applied to the word “sex” as well.