Wordsmith.org: the magic of words


About | Media | Search | Contact  


Today's Word

Yesterday's Word



Feb 14, 2005
This week's theme
Feminine and masculine forms of words

This week's words

A Word A Day
the book A Word A Day: A Romp Through Some of the Most Unusual and Intriguing Words in English "Delightful."
-The New York Times

Bookmark and Share Facebook Twitter Digg MySpace Bookmark and Share
with Anu Garg

The world of the English language is becoming genderless. Earlier we had teacheresses in schools, aviatrices in airplanes, and sculptresses in studios. Those feminine suffixes are now cast off and today they're known as teachers, aviators, and sculptors. For other terms, new gender-neutral alternatives are coined: mail-carrier, firefighter, chairperson (or chair), to cite but three examples.

It's easy to brush these off as a display of political correctness but there's a reason why we're moving away from those old terms. Often the feminine equivalents of the terms have inferior connotations: imitation (leather/leatherette), small size (statue/statuette), lesser social status (governor/governess), and at times the two terms are poles apart (wizard/witch) - wizard is a compliment while witch is disparaging.

Why is it important to recognize this? It's because while our language is a reflection of our society, the reverse is also true. Our society is also shaped by the language. So the trend is towards common terms to describe both men and women in the same professions, especially where the sex of the person is immaterial in context. As a result, the word actor is preferred for both men and women, chairman is giving way to chair, server is preferred to waiter/waitress, and steward/stewardess are known as flight-attendants.

All this is not to say that men and women are not different. They are, but where that difference is irrelevant, there is no reason to use two different terms to describe them.

There are still occasions where one needs to know separate terms for male and female forms. This week's AWAD explores terms that refer to distinctions between "mankind" and "womankind".


Pronunciation RealAudio

matrocliny (MA-truh-kli-nee) noun, also matricliny

Inheritance of traits primarily from the mother.

[From Latin matro- (mother) + -clino, from Greek klinein (to lean).]

Patrocliny is the male counterpart of this term.

"This matrocliny in the embryo of the reciprocal hybrids seems to be due to differences in the amount of reserve food material available."
A.L. Delisle; American Journal of Botany; Jun 1938.


One owes respect to the living. To the dead, one owes only the truth. -Voltaire, philosopher and writer (1694-1778)

We need your help

Help us continue to spread the magic of words to readers everywhere


Subscriber Services
Awards | Stats | Links | Privacy Policy
Contribute | Advertise

© 1994-2024 Wordsmith