Q&A: The blond leading the blonde

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Each week, we take a look at a common confusions and ambiguities in the English language (that gives us about a century’s worth of material!) – making things easier through the power of friendly conversation… This week, do blondes have more fun?

Q: Hi Australian Writers’ Centre! I have blonde hair but have recently started questioning whether it’s actually more of a shade of blond – without the E. What’s the go with this?
A: Ah, great question, and it’s actually both.

Q: Oh.
A: Yeah, we know, right? The noun is defined by gender: if you’re female, you’re a blonde; if you’re male, you’re a blond. That’s universal – when used solely as a noun and not an adjective.

Q: Yeah but what about if I’m describing my hair?
A: That’s when it gets messy.

Q: What, my hair?
A: Nope, the usage. When it comes to adjectives, UK English (which Australia follows) keeps the adjectives aligned to gender; so Helga the Swiss bank clerk has long blonde hair, while Sven the male Swedish ski instructor has short cropped blond hair.

Q: Makes sense so far. But what if Helga and Sven decided to travel to America?
A: Do they have current passports?

Q: Yes.
A: Are they carrying liquids, gels or flammable materials?

Q: Let’s go with “no” shall we?
A: Okay, good. So they’ve just landed at JFK. And the customs official if he were following US English rules would write in his report that “the blond female and blond male were carrying large quantities of Nazi gold hidden in a snowboard case”. This is because in the US, it’s typically ‘blond’ to describe everything.

Q: But blonde jokes? Blonde wood colour? Blonde lager? Blonde hair dye?
A: Marketing seems to love the E, to differentiate it from plain old ‘blond’ in America. And as for “blonde jokes” – the use of “blonde” here is synonymous with an intellectually challenged female, i.e. it is sticking to the universal rule for the female noun: “blonde”. Perhaps for this reason and the negative connotations, “blonde” is not used as a noun (i.e. “she is a blonde”) as much as something like “brunette” is.

Q: So, if I’ve got this right, nowhere on Earth should a man be described as “blonde”.
A: Yeah, that’s it. In the US, everything except the female noun (rare – due to the jokes) is described “blond”. And the rest of the world follows the French gender rules to the letter (literally) for everything – so guys stay as “blond” only.

Q: And when describing objects or products?
A: It should be “blond” if it’s something generic like wood. But if it’s a brand-name, you’ll go with whatever the marketers decided would add prestige or a uniqueness. In this case, often that means going “blonde”.

Q: Madonna had a “Blond Ambition” tour and Jessica Simpson made a movie called “Blonde Ambition”. Which is right?
A: Jessica Simpson in a movie is all kinds of wrong, but that’s not the issue. Here we’re dealing with creative licence, so neither is incorrect. Madonna’s version is technically more correct, following the generic rule and a play on “blind ambition” anyway. Yet the movie purposefully added the ‘e’ because, well, Jessica.
Q: I’m actually not a real blonde – it’s from a bottle. Does this affect usage?
A: Are you sure you’re not a real blonde? 😉

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