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Jun 19, 2000
This week's theme
Feminine and masculine forms of words

This week's words
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with Anu Garg

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.


(kar-ee-AT-id), plural caryatids or caryatides (-i-deez) Pronunciation Sound Clip RealAudio

noun: A supporting column sculptured in the form of a draped female figure.

From Latin Caryatides, maidens of Caryae, caryatids, from Greek Karuatides, from Karuai, Caryae, a village of Laconia in southern Greece.

"Opposite me is this gargantuan drinks cupboard, and a desk supported by winged caryatids with a jar of jellybeans on it."
Mark Irving; The Man With the Midas Touch; The Independent (London, UK); Mar 5, 2000.


Few people are capable of expressing with equanimity opinions which differ from that of their social environment. -Albert Einstein (1879-1955)

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