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Two girls smiling

Sister project Look up girl in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.


For other uses, see Girl (disambiguation).

A girl is any female human from birth through childhood and adolescence to attainment of adulthood. The term may also be used to mean a young woman.[1]



* 1 Etymology

o 1.1 Usage for adults

* 2 Demographics

* 3 Gender and environment

* 4 Art and literature

* 5 Popular culture

* 6 See also

* 7 Notes


The word girl first appeared during the Middle Ages between 1250 and 1300 CE and came from the Anglo-Saxon words gerle (also spelled girle or gurle), likely cognate with the Old Low German word gör (sometimes given as kerl).[2] The Anglo-Saxon word gerela meaning dress or clothing item also seems to have been used as a metonym in some sense.[3]

Girl has meant any young unmarried woman since about 1530. Its first noted meaning for sweetheart is 1648. The earliest known appearance of girl-friend is in 1892 and girl next door, meant as a teenaged female or young woman with a kind of wholesome appeal, dates only to 1961.[4]

Usage for adults

The word girl is sometimes used to refer to an adult female. This usage may be considered derogatory or disrespectful in professional or other formal contexts, just as the term boy can be considered disparaging when applied to an adult man. Hence, this usage is often deprecative.[3] It can also be used depricatively when used to discriminate against children ("you're just a girl").

In casual context, the word has positive uses, as evidenced by its use in titles of popular music. It has been used playfully for people acting in an energetic fashion (Furtado's "Promiscuous Girl") or as a way of unifying women of all ages on the basis of their once having been girls (McBride's "This One's for the Girls"). In both cases, these positive uses are when the word is used for its capacity to collectively refer to the girl's gender rather than to their age.


A girl from Mali

Slightly more boys are born than girls (in the US this ratio is about 105 boys born for every 100 girls), but girls are slightly less likely to die than boys, during childhood, so that the ratio for under 15 years of age is 104 boys for every 100 girls.[5].[6] Since the 1700s the human sex ratio has been observed as about 1,050 boys for every 1,000 girls born and sex selection on the part of parents further lessens the number of female births. Although the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has asserted "primary education shall be compulsory and available free to all" girls are slightly less likely to be enrolled as students in primary and secondary schools (70%:74% and 59%:65%). Worldwide efforts have been made to end this disparity (such as through the Millennium Development Goals) and the gap has closed since 1990.[7]

Gender and environment

A girl plays with paper dolls. Biological gender interacts with environment in ways not fully understood.

Biological gender interacts with environment in ways not fully understood.[8] Identical twin girls separated at birth and reunited decades later have shown both startling similarities and differences.[9] In 2005 Kim Wallen of Emory University noted, "I think the 'nature versus nurture' question is not meaningful, because it treats them as independent factors, whereas in fact everything is nature and nurture." Wallen said gender differences emerge very early and come about through an underlying preference males and females have for their chosen activities. Girls tend to like toys and other objects they can interact with, while boys will more likely prefer "things that they can manipulate and do things to."

A girl pretends to drive a toy car. Gender differences emerge very early and have to do with underlying predispositions which are shaped by experience.

According to Wallen, expectations will nonetheless play a role in how girls perform academically. For example, if females skilled in math are told a test is "gender neutral" they achieve high scores, but if they are told males outperformed females in the past, the females will do much worse. "What’s strange is," Wallen observed, "according to the research, all one apparently has to do is tell a woman who has a lifetime of socialization of being poor in math that a math test is gender neutral, and all effects of that socialization go away."[10] Author Judith Harris has said that aside from their genetic contribution, the nurturing provided by parents likely has less long-term influence over their offspring than other environmental aspects such as the children's peer group.[11]

In England, studies by the National Literacy Trust have shown girls score consistently higher than boys in all scholastic areas from the ages of 7 through 16, with the most striking differences noted in reading and writing skills.[12] Historically, girls lagged on standardized tests. In 1996 the average score of 503 for US girls from all races on the SAT verbal test was 4 points lower than boys. In math, the average for girls was 492, which was 35 points lower than boys. "When girls take the exact same courses," commented Wayne Camara, a research scientist with the College Board, "that 35-point gap dissipates quite a bit." At the time Leslie R. Wolfe, president of the Center for Women Policy Studies said girls scored differently on the math tests because they tend to work the problems out while boys use "test-taking tricks" such as immediately checking the answers already given in multiple-choice questions. Wolfe said girls are steady and thorough while "boys play this test like a pin-ball machine." Wolfe also said although girls had lower SAT scores they consistently get higher grades than boys across all courses their first year in college.[13] By 2006 girls were outscoring boys on the verbal portion of the SAT by 11 points.[14] A 2005 University of Chicago study showed that a majority presence of girls in the classroom tends to enhance the academic performance of boys.[15]

Art and literature

Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window, Jan Vermeer van Delft (1657).

Egyptian murals included sympathetic portraits of young girls who were daughters of royalty. Sappho's poetry carries love poems addressed to girls.

In Europe, some early paintings featuring girls were Petrus Christus' Portrait of a Young Girl (about 1460), Juan de Flandes' Portrait of a Young Girl (about 1505), Frans Hals' Die Amme mit dem Kind in 1620, Diego Velázquez' Las Meninas in 1656, Jan Steen's The Feast of St. Nicolas (about 1660) and Johannes Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring along with Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window. Later paintings of girls include Albert Anker's portrait of a Girl with a Domino Tower and Camille Pissarro's 1883 Portrait of a Felix Daughter.

American paintings featuring girls include Mary Cassatt's 1884 Children on the Beach and Whistler's Harmony in Gray and Green: Miss Cicely Alexander and The White Girl (shown at right).

Many novels begin with the childhood of their heroine, such as Jane Eyre who suffers ill treatment or Natasha in War and Peace, who is sentimentalized. Other novels include Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird in which a young girl is protagonist. Vladimir Nabokov's controversial book Lolita (1955) is about a doomed relationship between a 12 year old girl and an adult scholar as they travel across the United States. Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden begins as the female main character and her sister are dropped off in the pleasure district after being separated from their family.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll featured a widely noted female protagonist. Moreover, Carroll's photographs of girls are often cited in histories of photographic art.

Popular culture

A girl from Portugal.

European fairy tales have preserved memorable stories about girls. Among these are Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Rapunzel, Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Match Girl, The Little Mermaid, The Princess and the Pea and the Brothers Grimm's Little Red Riding Hood.

Children's books about girls include Alice in Wonderland, Heidi, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the Nancy Drew series, Little House on the Prairie, Madeline, Pippi Longstocking, A Wrinkle in Time, and Dragonsong. Books which have both boy and girl protagonists have tended to focus more on the boys, but important girl characters appear in Knight's Castle, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, The Book of Three and the Harry Potter series.

There have been many American comic books and comic strips featuring a girl as the main character such as Little Lulu and Little Orphan Annie. In superhero comic books an early girl character was Etta Candy, one of Wonder Woman's sidekicks. In the Peanuts series (by Charles Schulz) girl characters include Peppermint Patty, Lucy van Pelt and Sally Brown.

In Japanese animated cartoons and comic books girls are often protagonists. Most of Hayao Miyazaki's animated films feature a young girl heroine, as in Majo no takkyūbin (Kiki's Delivery Service). There are many other girl protagonists in the Shōjo style of manga, which is targeted to girls as an audience. Among these are The Wallflower, Ceres, Celestial Legend, Tokyo Mew Mew and Full Moon o Sagashite. Meanwhile, some genres of Japanese cartoons may feature sexualized and objectified portrayals of girls.

The term girl is widely heard in the lyrics of popular music (such as with the song "About a Girl"), most often meaning a young adult or teenaged female.

See also

Sister project Look up girl in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.

* Boy

* Female infanticide

* Girl group

* Girl Guides

* Girl Power

* Woman


Sister project Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Girls

1. ^, girl, retrieved 2 January 2008

2. ^ Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1913), girl, retrieved 2 January 2008

3. ^ a b, girl, retrieved 2 January 2008

4. ^ Online Etymology Dictionary, girl, retrieved 2 January 2008

5. ^ "CIA Fact Book". The Central Intelligence Agency of the United States.

6. ^, The Odds of Having a Boy or a Girl, retrieved 8 January 2009

7. ^ The State of the World's Children 2004 - Girls, Education and Development , UNICEF, 2004

8. ^, Kurt Kleiner, A mind of their own (book review of Nature via Nurture by Matt Ridley), 19 June 2003, retrieved 2 January 2008

9. ^ BBC, Jane Beresford, Twins reunited, after 35 years apart, 31 December 2007, retrieved 2 January 2008

10. ^ Emory University website, Women's work?, September 2005, retrieved 2 January 2008

11. ^, Nature vs. nurture, 20 October 1998, retrieved 2 January 2008

12. ^, Literacy achievement in England, including gender split, 2007, retrieved 7 December 2008

13. ^ New York Times, Katherine Q Seelye, Group Seeks to Alter S.A.T. to Raise Girls' Scores, 14 March 1997, retrieved 2 January 2008

14. ^ ABC News, John Berman, Girls Achieve Rare SAT Scores, 30 August 2006, retrieved 2 January 2008

15. ^, Girl-Dominated Classrooms Can Improve Boys’ Early School Performance, retrieved 2 January 2008


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