When was the last time you came across a victrix, an authoress, an usherette
or a comedienne? As you might have already figured, these are now-obsolete
feminine forms of the nouns victor, author, usher, comedian, formed by
appending the suffixes -trix, -ess, -ette, -enne, respectively.
Many believe these gender-specific words connote inferiority
(leather/leatherette), diminutive size (novel/novelette), or lesser social
status (governor/governess), and prefer that the same term be applied to
both males and females, especially when the sex of the person is immaterial
in context. As a result, especially in the US, the word actor is preferred
for both men and women, chairman is giving way to chair, and
firemen/firewomen are becoming firefighters, to cite but three examples.
This development may be a relief for modern schoolchildren who no longer have
to remember whether they should use aviatrix, aviatoress, or aviatorette
when writing an essay about women flying aircraft. However, things are not
always that easy. There are still places where one needs to know separate
terms for male and female forms. This week's AWAD explores some terms that
are gender specific and without a suffix-enabled counterpart.