In Spanish, most nouns default to masculine or feminine, as do the adjectives that describe them. So if you're referring to a group of people that includes a man, the word you'd use for that group would be masculine — even if that group is mostly made up of women.
(For a handy explainer on how words in languages become gendered, check out the "When Nouns Grow Genitals" episode of Slate's Lexicon Valley.)
To get around this, a growing number of activists, academics and bloggers have taken to employing the webby appellation "Latin@," which includes both the masculine "o" and the feminine "a," as a way to describe people with Latin American roots.
The University of Wisconsin uses it this way in the official name for its Department of Latin@ and Chican@ Studies. Karma Chavez, a professor there, said that the push toward gender neutrality in Spanish has been going on for decades.
"As far as I know, this challenge to language occurred more or less to other feminist challenges to language in the United States," Chavez said. "The late author Gloria Anzald˙a talks about the first time she encountered the word nosotras" —- the Spanish word for "us" or "we" — "as she had no idea that that term could be written in the feminine."
OK, but how would you actually say it aloud?
"Well, this is where things get complicated," Chavez said. "Most people end up just saying Chicano and Chicana." Others, she says, prefer to make an "ow" sound, like "cow." But, she admits, there's no real consensus on this.
So, Two-Way readers: Have you seen this usage in your online travels? Do you use it? And how would you pronounce it?