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Go Home, English, You’re Drunk: Can Men Be Fertile?

A new, semi-regular series where I explore the English language and all its weird, stupid quirks.


Today I came across the phrase “male fertility.” If I had been reading the text like a normal person, I would have barely noticed it. But I was reading like an editor, which means that things that should be totally normal seem totally weird.

Can people with male reproductive systems be “fertile”? When you think about it, it doesn’t really make sense. Fertility, as a term, originally referred to land; put a seed into fertile land and it will bear crops. By rights, then, fertility should only refer to the female capacity to grow babies. Males plant the seed. Females bear the crops. Males should be referred to as “potent,” or its rather unfortunate antonym, “impotent.” I mean, right?! Am I overthinking this?

Yes, as usual. The Canadian Oxford Dictionary, final arbiter on correctness in all situations, defines fertile as “able to produce offspring,” with no gender restrictions. Fertile is an equal-opportunity adjective. 

Just part of the glamorous life of an editor!