Female actors
Posted: 31 October 2012 04:10 AM   [ Ignore ]
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I know that historically ‘actor’ was used for both sexes, but this seemed to fade after the word ‘actress’ appeared in the early 17th century, and has only recently been reintroduced to refer to women. When? The OED won’t commit itself to anything more definite than ‘recently’.

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Posted: 31 October 2012 05:20 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Just a WAG on my part, but I think it’s fairly recent--a decade? It’s recent enough for folks to be asking the question in 2010 for example. The Screen Actors Guild now uses it exclusively, I believe. The Guardian was still defending its style policy in Feb 2011. Whoopi Goldberg is quoted as saying, “"An actress can only play a woman. I’m an actor: I can play anything”. One source says that she said that on the Today Show in 1986. That seems early to me.

Is it the case that “actress” became a term of art because until the 17th Century all actors were male?

edit: Ah, [blush] but that wasn’t the question you asked.[/blush]

[ Edited: 31 October 2012 05:22 AM by Oecolampadius ]
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Posted: 31 October 2012 05:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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This from the Guardian piece:

in the original 1926 edition of Fowler’s Modern English Usage, in which the great man writes: “With the coming extension of women’s vocations, feminines for vocation-words are a special need of the future; everyone knows the inconvenience of being uncertain whether a doctor is a man or a woman; hesitation in establishing the word doctress is amazing in a people regarded as nothing but practical. Far from needing to reduce the number of our sex-words, we should do well to indulge in real neologisms such as ­teacheress, singeress & danceress.”

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Posted: 31 October 2012 05:49 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Just a WAG on my part, but I think it’s fairly recent--a decade?

It was big in the 70s.

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Posted: 31 October 2012 06:00 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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It goes back much farther than a decade; as OP says, it was big in the ‘70s, and it’s trivially easy to turn up earlier examples with Google Books.  From Captain Rock in London; or, The chieftain’s gazette for the year 1825, p. 305 (Nov. 26, 1825): “Male and female actors in this drama of mortality, follow in all the ‘mimicry of grief’...”

books?id=ljIvAAAAMAAJ&pg=PA305&img=1&zoom=3&hl=en&sig=ACfU3U3D34NohBMI7anXCyQmbjH2sLhMIA&ci=42,831,285,102&edge=0

(Yes, that’s not quite the same as using “actor” instead of “actress,” but I have work to do and can’t spend too much time looking for perfect examples.)

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Posted: 31 October 2012 08:19 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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everyone knows the inconvenience of being uncertain whether a doctor is a man or a woman

I can imagine Fowler, in the 1920s, being embarrassed, rather than inconvenienced: I can’t imagine anyone (outside the Middle East) has dared say “I’d rather see a male doctor” since about 1940.

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Posted: 31 October 2012 09:45 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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languagehat - 31 October 2012 06:00 AM

It goes back much farther than a decade; as OP says, it was big in the ‘70s, and it’s trivially easy to turn up earlier examples with Google Books.  From Captain Rock in London; or, The chieftain’s gazette for the year 1825, p. 305 (Nov. 26, 1825): “Male and female actors in this drama of mortality, follow in all the ‘mimicry of grief’...”

books?id=ljIvAAAAMAAJ&pg=PA305&img=1&zoom=3&hl=en&sig=ACfU3U3D34NohBMI7anXCyQmbjH2sLhMIA&ci=42,831,285,102&edge=0

(Yes, that’s not quite the same as using “actor” instead of “actress,” but I have work to do and can’t spend too much time looking for perfect examples.)

But its use in place of “actors and actresses” speaks volumes.

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