The list of words starts with "abortion," "actor" and adultery" goes on through "craftsman," "embryo," "grandfather," "womankind," "stewardess" and "vasectomy," before finishing off with "wedded."

The words, 300 and more, were fed into government computers last year as part of an effort to turn up instances of sex discrimination in federal laws, regulations and policies. Statutes and regulations containing the words have now been passed on to 42 different agencies, which have been told to examine the laws and rules for their potential discriminatory effect.

The computer search--one of several that have been conducted since the Ford administration started the coordinated effort against sex discrimination--was handled by the Justice Department's Task Force on Legal Equity for Women. Its requests for agency review have received lukewarm praise, at best, from equal rights advocates and a not-always-warm response from some of the agency officials who have to do the reviews.

"This is just flaky," said one bureaucrat familiar with the review. He added that the work contemplated by the Justice Department's request for a quarterly report would take a massive investment of staff resources at a time when his agency, like many throughout the government, is experiencing budget and personnel reductions.

"I'm slightly suspicious," said Kathy Wilson, head of the National Women's Political Caucus. "It is advantageous to identify discriminatory statutes. Maybe there's a need for a renewed effort. But the problem with all these exercises is that they're superficial and cosmetic . . . . This has been done before . . . . It stops short of any real effective change."

"I have to disagree that this has been done before," said Linda McCann, a Justice Department spokesman. "Computer searches have been done. But each administration has had its own approach to how to complete the work. I'm happy to say that we're on the verge of completing it." She added that the task force soon would report on discriminatory statutes.

The emphasis now, she said, is on eliminating discriminatory rules--a job that McCann conceded would be time-consuming for the bureaucrats involved, because the Code of Federal Regulations is much larger than the code of federal laws.

President Reagan has pointed to the task force's efforts to show that in spite of his opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment his administration supports equal rights for women. He was questioned sharply by White House correspondent Sarah McClendon at a news conference last summer about the group's progress and the availability of its initial report.

Among the guidelines that Justice sent the agencies was the notation that they should "cite the laws, regs, policy directives, practices publications, etc., which may or do still discriminate on the basis of gender. Include proposed corrective language; commitment to correction."

The guidelines also ask agencies to "pay particular attention to the relative effort of your agency to remove barriers to procurement/con-tracting/subcontracting with regard to minorities and non-minority women."

The department asked that agencies review statutes and rules that might have a discriminatory effect because they apply to groups that may be predominantly male or female. As an example, the guidelines cite laws involving elderly citizens, who are disproportionately female.

McCann said she could not fully explain how all the words ended up on the list that was fed into the computer, including such words as "bondage," "prostitute," "quartermaster" and "population control."