The present paper traces the development of the generic masculine as a linguistic convention focusing on its origin and use in German. Examining theories of grammatical gender from ancient times to the 20th century reveals that the generic use of the masculine cannot be regarded as a merely formal feature of language but as an expression of zeitgeist as well as contemporary social and cultural conditions. Historically, the convention of the masculine as a generic gender goes along with the idea of a semantic relation between gender and sex as well as the notion of the masculine gender being more worthy than the feminine. The findings at hand not only illustrate the increasing sexualisation of the grammatical gender concept over the centuries but also point to the dissenting voices that were raised against this trend. How the convention was implemented and to what extent it lead to problems of ambiguous reference will be outlined by focusing mainly on legal language and terminology. In this area the question of whether generic expressions refer to men or women or to both sexes has always had particular relevance.
© Walter de Gruyter