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Posted: 12 May 2007 09:58 AM   [ Ignore ]
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The Guardian, a left-leaning British newspaper, always describes actresses as actors. I suspect there are feminist or sexism-in-language reasons for this but I can’t fathom them. It’s not like the chairman/person argument where there is a justifiable claim that the chairman description discriminates against women who legally have an equal claim to the job.
Actress is purely descriptive, not judgemental in any way, surely, unless I’m missing something.
Do waiters and waitresses demand the same distinction? Someone in a chat room told me ‘server’ is used in some places which sounds even worse to me with connotations of serve, servant, servile.

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Posted: 12 May 2007 10:47 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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The titles waiters and waitresses seem to be completely gone.  In university towns, the titles varied over time from wait-staff to the truly reprehensible waitron. Server seems to be the title of choice these days.

On Actor, the Screen Actors Guild seems to be prefer “female actor” (but then the awarded statue is called the “Actor").  The SAG constitution (April 2007 version) only uses the word “Actress” once, preferring “performer” for the legal term.  While the Academy Awards seems to use “actress” but I don’t think this is consistent.  IMDb pretty consistently uses actress, from my quick googling.

edit: The idea behind getting rid of the “-ess” endings on titles seems to be rooted in a lack of parallel between the two terms Actor and Actress. As per AHD’s usage note:

Many critics have argued that there are sexist connotations in the use of the suffix –ess to indicate a female in words like sculptress, waitress, stewardess, and actress. The heart of the problem lies in the nonparallel use of terms to designate men and women. For example, the –or ending on sculptor seems neutral or unmarked. By comparison, sculptress seems to be marked for gender, implying that the task of sculpting differs as performed by women and men or even that the task should typically be performed by a man. For occupational titles, the use of –ess has been almost completely replaced by recently formed gender-neutral compounds such as flight attendant and letter carrier or by the –er/–or forms. The Usage Panel finds use of the –or suffix to refer to women perfectly acceptable. Ninety-five percent of Panelists approve of sculptor in the sentence The gallery is exhibiting work of sculptor Barbara Hepworth. Sculptress is far less accepted; sixty-five percent reject it in the sentence Georgia O’Keeffe is not as well known as a sculptress as she is as a painter.

I think we had this discussion before, but I can’t find it.  Dr. Techie will certainly do so.

[ Edited: 12 May 2007 11:03 AM by Oecolampadius ]
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Posted: 12 May 2007 11:29 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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The heart of the problem lies in the nonparallel use of terms to designate men and women. For example, the –or ending on sculptor seems neutral or unmarked. By comparison, sculptress seems to be marked for gender, implying that the task of sculpting differs as performed by women and men or even that the task should typically be performed by a man.

Probably the -or in sculptor designated a male in Latin and simultaneously was the generic term. In Spanish the default word for child (won’t attempt a tilde here) is masculine if the sex of the child is not specified. Only if the child is specifically female is the noun form changed to feminine. The problem posed in the OP appears to be the same one as using ‘he’ etc. for the ‘generic person’. As on-point as the AHD commentary is, I don’t think parallelism is exactly the issue so much as priority.

German has got a tiger by the tail if it wants to clean up its gender issues, unless the generic man (as in “man denkt” versus “one thinks") is considered to be gender neutral.

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Posted: 12 May 2007 12:56 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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As Mark Twain almost said, “In German, a turnip has gender yet a girl does not.”

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Posted: 12 May 2007 01:11 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Actress is purely descriptive, not judgemental in any way, surely, unless I’m missing something.

I think it’s up to the people being described to decide whether it’s “purely descriptive.” If actresses don’t like the term and prefer to be called actors, that’s good enough for me.

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Posted: 12 May 2007 04:12 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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It seems to me that the use of “actor” to describe a female performer is in itself partially responsible for “actress” dropping out of use, as now an “actor” is no longer always male, whereas an “actress” is still always female.

On the subject of chairmen/women, I used to get into trouble when writing up minutes, by describing the person chairing the meeting as chairman or chairwoman as appropriate, on the grounds that, once the meeting had been held, you knew what sex the “chairperson” was and it avoided the use of the latter term or referring to them as a piece of furniture.

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Posted: 12 May 2007 09:35 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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This is a very long loop, but under Dave’s “Welcome” articles under the topic of “Ask the Pilot: Airline Glossary” there is a link to Patrick Smith’s Salon page and there under Deplane (look for the second page titled “wind shear") you’ll find a link to Stewardess wherein he unabashedly defends the use of this scurillously sexist term, comparing it to actress and waitress, as a “term of convenience”. That alone would be indefensible, making stewardesses an item of convenience, except that he points out his own mother (or Mudder if he’s NY Irish and Muvver if he’s Cockney) was in the biz back in ‘65, and tomorrow is Mother’s Day after all, in this country, so I guess we can give him a pass, at least a temporary one-day pass.

Or just look here:

http://www.salon.com/tech/col/smith/2007/02/09/askthepilot220/

[ Edited: 12 May 2007 09:39 PM by foolscap ]
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Posted: 13 May 2007 04:45 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Wake me up when a woman defends the term.

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Posted: 13 May 2007 05:02 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Well, I for one will mourn the passing of aviatrix (or should I be in mourning already?) I believe there are a couple of more words which take the -ix suffix, can’t think of them at the moment.

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Posted: 13 May 2007 05:52 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Having heard many a time, “What did the actress say to the bishop?” my immediate thought was, “What wouild the actor say to the xxxx?” Not moving in ecclesiastical circles I wondered about the feminine gender of bishop so I went googling and found this:

“Above Theodora’s face is the title ‘Episcopa,’ with the feminine ending, signifying a Bishop who is a woman - Church Notes - photo caption
Catholic New Times, May 4, 2003

Above Theodora’s face is the title ‘Episcopa,’ with the feminine ending, signifying a Bishop who is a woman. That’s (if you’re counting) two proofs of female ordination. One; the female image. Two; the female word for ‘Bishop.’ Around her head is a square frame, signifying that she was living during the time of the portrait. This mosaic is taken from a Church of St. Praxedis in Rome. Circa 900ad.

http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0MKY/is_8_27/ai_111026179

Besides having never personally encountered a lady bishop, nor having ever heard the word ‘episcopa,” and with my SOED of no use, thought someone here might comment.

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Posted: 13 May 2007 06:06 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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The question should be examined in terms of whether or not the sex of the person makes an actual difference in the task or service being performed.

Does your food taste better or is it served faster by a waitress than by a waiter? Is a chairman better able to run a meeting than a chairwoman? Is in-flight service provided by a stewardess superior to that of a steward? Is the hunk of rock produced by a sculptor superior to that produced by a sculptress?

If the answer is no (and in each of these cases I think it is), then one should not make a gender distinction in description of the position.

“Actress,” however, is somewhat different. The sex of the performer does make a difference. So use of “actress” is not unacceptable. You might follow a style rule that says use “actor” as the generic term, including use when describing the general career of a female performer (e.g., “Kate Hepburn was a great actor”; Hepburn herself preferred the term “actor."), but use “actress” in situations where a particular role calls for a female performer. This leaves some potential for ambiguity between the generic and male roles, but short of resorting to “performer” (which can be too general as it encompasses musicians, singers, mimes, etc.) there is little that can be done to avoid this.

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Posted: 13 May 2007 07:37 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Wake me up when a woman defends the term.

I’m thinking the waitstaff at Hooters won’t be up in arms over waitress.

I believe there are a couple of more words which take the -ix suffix

Dominatrix is one that probably won’t be going unisex any time soon. The law formerly used the -ix suffix regularly, as in testatrix for testator and executrix for executor. I’ve made my Ex the executrix of my estate so she can execute me twice.

“Above Theodora’s face is the title ‘Episcopa,’ with the feminine ending

The image and another discussion can be seen here:

http://romancatholicwomenpriests.blogspot.com/

[ Edited: 13 May 2007 09:05 AM by foolscap ]
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Posted: 13 May 2007 08:12 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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Skibberoo - 13 May 2007 05:52 AM

Besides having never personally encountered a lady bishop, nor having ever heard the word ‘episcopa,” and with my SOED of no use, thought someone here might comment.

It’s of no help because it’s not an English word.  It’s Greek and the word “Bishop” is derived from it.  In its simplest form, it just means “overseer.” Bishopress is not currently used for a female in that position.

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Posted: 13 May 2007 08:55 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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"All actors and actresses to the stage.” There’s the need for a word that includes all of them without including anyone else.  Performers would seem to include the orchestra, acrobats, circus fleas, dancing bears, and lions who jump through hoops.

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Posted: 13 May 2007 10:28 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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Dave Wilton - 13 May 2007 06:06 AM

The question should be examined in terms of whether or not the sex of the person makes an actual difference in the task or service being performed.

Does your food taste better or is it served faster by a waitress than by a waiter? Is a chairman better able to run a meeting than a chairwoman? Is in-flight service provided by a stewardess superior to that of a steward? Is the hunk of rock produced by a sculptor superior to that produced by a sculptress?

I think this appears to confuse “difference” with “difference in quality”.  Of course there is no qualitative difference between food served by a waiter and food served by a waitress, but there is still a difference; one person serving is a man and the other is a woman and most diners will notice that difference without necessarily thinking the service has been the better or worse for it.  Whilst I agree there is a case for describing the occupation in a gender-neutral way, once you are dealing with a real person, then there is a need to differentiate between the sexes.  I think most people would assume, if you said you were served by a waiter, that you were served by a man.

Incidentally, “Ask the Pilot” suggests that cabin staff were originally exclusively female, i.e. stewardesses, and that “steward” was the male form of “stewardess” when men started to fill that role, too.  I had always thought it was the other way round, that stewardess was derived from steward because the first cabin staff were male as they were in the ocean liners.

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Posted: 13 May 2007 10:54 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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Speaking of actresses and bishops, according to a short wiki on the phrase, the earliest recorded appearance is in the first Saint novel, by Leslie Charteris, Meet The Tiger!, which was published in 1928.

It last came up here, I believe, in a thread on fossilized punchlines, but I don’t recall that we found an early cite for it then. I’m trying to remember other punchlines in the thread but coming up empty at the moment.

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