Monday, November 27, 2017

What Happened to the Term "Actress?"

My friend Richard asked this question one day last week in response to the post I publish every morning on my Facebook page, in which I list noteworthy birthdays and riff on some historical event that took place on that day. Richard's question arose because I list the birthdays of "actors," rather than "actors and actresses."

The short answer to his question is that nothing has happened to the term "actress" - it's still here. Although I think we've gone overboard in many ways with trying to scrub supposedly sexist terms from American English*, I don't think - from a purely linguistic standpoint - that there's any point to differentiating between male and female members of most professions. As I noted in my response to Richard, we don't say aviatrix any more to refer to a female aviator ... she's just an aviator or a pilot. We also don't have separate terms for male and female nurses, members of Congress, or for persons in many other professions**.

My bottom line: if there's no definite reason to designate a person as male or female when their profession is discussed, there's no need to have separate terms that denote their sex.

And that's your linguistic rant for the day.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* You may recall the old joke about the fanatical linguistic purist who told her child to, "Run out to the person box and see if the person person has brought us any person."

** Scumbag lawyers are still referred to as "lawyers," crooked or inept judges are called "judges," and useless politicians are referred to as "president," "vice president," or "member of Congress," whether they are male or female.


Margaret (Peggy or Peg too) said...

My first thought was you don't refer to a singer as a woman singer, just a singer, or vice versa. Hmm...

eViL pOp TaRt said...

The ending "-trix" sort of suggested condescending. Why did people see a need for these, anyway?

John Hill said...

I remember reading a story several decades ago about an elementary student. The boy's mom was one of the first women commercial airlines pilots.
When asked what they wanted to be when they grow up, the boy wanted to be a fireman. The teacher said, "I would've thought you'd want to be a pilot."
The boy responded, "That's a girl's job!"
It's all about perspective.

Elvis Wearing a Bra on His Head said...

The separate terms for men and women in occupations implies that something is unexpected, or out of kilter, or something.

Mike said...

It's taken awhile but I'm finally getting used to the word congresswoman. I will never get used to saying 'the data are...'

allenwoodhaven said...

I agree, footnotes and all.