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A friend of mine, who's spent some time in Germany, told me today that in German, the noun Putzfrau is often used for male cleaners as well. This goes beyond all logic, since I found the word Putzmann in the dictionary.

Is it true that Putzfrau is (or at least used to be) used for male cleaners as well? If so, was it perhaps a mocking/pejorative term?

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  • So is this where the English (derogatory) term of "putz" comes from? Basically calling someone a janitor?
    – Aaron
    Commented Mar 22, 2012 at 12:03
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    A woman can become a Müllmann or be a Fachmann in some subject, too. Commented Mar 22, 2012 at 15:58
  • Ich, als Hausfrau, kann Dir sagen, ... Commented Mar 23, 2012 at 13:33
  • @BryceAtNetwork23 No, "putz" is from Yiddish.
    – Taymon
    Commented Mar 23, 2012 at 14:00
  • Never heard it in that context, but it's possible. It would be similar to "nurse" in English. Since it's a profession with inherent stereotypes about it often you need to make it clear that a nurse is male, whenever that's the case. I think these days Putzkraft or Reinigungskraft is more often used at least in the places I came in touch with it. Commented Apr 3, 2012 at 19:54

4 Answers 4

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Putzmann exists but is rarely used, indeed.

If you talk about cleaners in general you will (almost always) use Putzfrau unregarded if the person could be (or even is) a man.

Nach der Party bestellte ich eine Putzfrau.

Sometimes when I talk about a male cleaner I want to say instinctively Putzfrau and while articulating I hesitate because I recognize my mistake. Then I often try to stress Putzfrau in an ironical or amusing way.

If you know that the cleaner you're talking about is male and you pay attention on not being derogatory you typically replace Putzfrau with Putzkraft or Putzhilfe rather than Putzmann.

Unsere Putzkraft hat heute mal wieder die Fenster vergessen.

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"Putzmann" actually is an uncommon word, I do not remember anyone actaully using it, besides to make some jokes.

So if you are looking for a word that includes male cleaners I would use "Reinigungspersonal" for cleaning personnel or "Reinigungsfachkraft" which is a jobtitle and is geneder neutral as well.

To refer to you question: Yes and no: If you refer to cleaning personell in spoken language you just talk about "Putzfrau" never about "Putzmann". However if you explicitly want to address the gender of a male cleaner without using the suggestions above you may use "Putzmann".

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By definition when referring to a "Putzfrau" we talk about a female person (this is also the image that comes to mind).

I never heard anybody refer to a male cleaner as "Putzfrau", not even in a colloquial or familiar setting.

There are other, better suited words for that like e.g.

  • Reinigungskraft
  • Putzhilfe
  • Raumpfleger

Despite its existence "Putzmann" is only rarely used.

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When talking about Putzfrauen, female or male, at least in my social circle, people might often use the pejorative short form Putze. Nevertheless it still has the female sounding touch to it. (But I think this is based solely on the expectation to have a female Putze and not a male Putzfrau).

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  • Maybe because it is a derivation from Putzfrau. The article is die Putze and not der Putze (der Putzmann).
    – Em1
    Commented Mar 22, 2012 at 17:43
  • @Em1: True, but that counts for die Putzhilfe and die Putzfachkraft, too ;)
    – Baarn
    Commented Mar 22, 2012 at 18:39
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    Also, Putze has a harsh negative connotation.
    – bot47
    Commented Mar 23, 2012 at 10:33

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