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Some translations for "Kerl" are "fellow", "bloke", "guy", "chap" and "dude". Most of them are (somewhat) gender-neutral. What about "Kerl"?

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For 'answers' and commentary on the English side, see What is a feminine version of guys? and What is a feminine version of dude?. My synopsis: the English words in your list above are possible to use with females, but are not 'somewhat' gender-neutral, they are words primarily used for masculine situations. But, from the commentary below it seems that 'guy' has more instances than 'Kerl' where it can be used with women. –  Mitch Aug 1 '11 at 15:46
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3 Answers 3

up vote 12 down vote accepted

From Duden:

(durch bestimmte [positive Charakter]eigenschaften charakterisierter) Mensch

Beispiele

  • ein patenter Kerl
  • sie ist ein feiner, netter, prächtiger, guter Kerl
  • ein lieber, goldiger, tapferer Kerl (Junge)

It is mostly used for male persons, but may be used for women as well. Be careful though, because in addition to this rather neutral meaning, it also has the meaning of man, which you can't say to a woman obviously, unless you want to insult her or want to explicitly express that she's (in some regards) like a man or a good Kumpel, like jemand mit dem man Pferde stehlen kann.

Another meaning of Kerl is Liebhaber (lover).


Note that the definition from Duden is important: Kerl is used for females in the sense of "(durch bestimmte [positive Charakter]eigenschaften charakterisierter) Mensch" - in the sense of Mann, Liebhaber or Prachtexemplar, it is not, at least not without causing offense. From the Grimm:

b) einige verbindungen, wie guter kerl, dummer kerl, närrischer kerl, sind so feste eigene begriffe geworden, dasz sie mit vergessen des geschlechts darin auch von frauen, mädchen, kindern, allerlei persönlichen wesen gesagt werden; frauen nennen sich wol selbst so in vertraulicher rede, im selbstgespräch. so sagen sie ja auch man von sich, und unser einer.

For these reasons, a woman may not be a Kerl, but she may be a netter Kerl. However, the positive adjective is sometimes omitted, even though the gender-neutral meaning is intended. Of course, it may be easier to avoid offense by just not using the word. But that would be too easy, wouldn't it? ;)

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Interesting. I never heard of Kerl being used for females. –  musiKk Aug 1 '11 at 10:12
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Kerl is nerver used for females. May be correct, but more than uncommon. –  infinitesimalLeanne Aug 1 '11 at 10:18
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"Typ" is another word that denotes a man when used without an adjective, while "Sie ist ein toller Typ" is common. –  Stefan Walter Aug 1 '11 at 12:29
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It's neither, nor. It just has two meanings. One has to be accompanied by an adjective, since it is a colloquial expression describing someone's character, the other is the actual translation for chap, dude, bloke etc. It is not really uncommon to use it both ways in any part of germany. –  Semyazas Aug 1 '11 at 12:45
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AFAIK, all the usages for a female, being a Kerl, try to express that she has attributes like a man, like in 'zum Pferde stehlen'. Therefore I partly agree with @infinitesimalLeanne. –  user unknown Aug 1 '11 at 14:05
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As OregonGhost mentioned in a comment, the key to this is in the adjectives. Without adjectives, "Kerl" can only be applied to males and basically means "guy", and can but need not have negative connotations, as in "Was ist das denn für ein Kerl?". The negative use is relatively common, whereas the neutral use synonymous with "man" is obsolescent except in certain dialects. With positive adjectives, however, as in the Duden entry OregonGhost cites, "Kerl" can also be applied to females, though this is not very common.

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I think you're right. In the meantime I added more to my answer, including a quote from the Grimm, which mentions that certain set expressions are used for women, though some of the examples are with negative adjectives. It may not be very common today, but it is more common than never ;) Welcome to the site, by the way :) –  OregonGhost Aug 1 '11 at 12:26
    
What do you mean by 'negative use'? –  user unknown Aug 1 '11 at 13:57
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I think, most women would be outright offended to be referred to as a "Kerl".

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Correct. I have never heard anybody using "Kerl" to address a woman. –  Kage Sep 1 '11 at 14:45
    
+1 I think that's an important aspect. It is still possible (on the verge of becoming obsolete) among men to say "Sie ist ein Pfundskerl." about a woman - but none of these men would say it to her (except when she's proud of and cultivating a certain tomboyishness). NOTE: "Pfundskerl" does not refer to the person's weight - it means "great guy" :) –  Mac Sep 29 '11 at 7:24
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