Sunday, April 8, 2012


I looked up the Latin root word for victim and victory, thinking if it was the same I could contemplate the possible fork these words took to become so opposite in meaning. Webster said victim is from Lat. victima. Victory is Lat. victoria, victor.
Close, but no cigar.

Then my eye spied victress: A woman who defeats an opponent. This word isn't used very often. I went on a hunt.

We use heiress but not huntress. Actress but not doctress. Baroness but not conductress. Why don't we use ambassadress? Aviatress? Adulteress? Why have some words that denote 'woman who does ....' fallen into disuse, and others stuck?

Will women reclaim these words in the future? Will we be happy with gender neutral descriptors: doctor, lawyer, banker, president?

What would an alternative universe be like if women had held power in the past and men were struggling for equality? Would they want to be doctresses?


  1. Very interesting post! You have the wheels in my head, turning... :-)

  2. I believe actresses prefer the term actor these days. And I think aviatrix is a female aviator.
    But we had a female Prime Minister, not a Ministress. Personally I prefer gender neutral words, even if they did originally belong to the male. I was always a teacher not a teacheress - thank heaven the word schoolmistress had gone out of fashion! And, thinking about it, I prefer the word author to authoress.

  3. In general, I think English-speaking countries tend toward gender neutral words, especially as women reach more equal footing with men. Non-English-speaking countries still use masculine and feminine forms of words. I would hope we'd stick with gender-neutral words. It shows the importance of the profession, rather than the importance of the gender of the person.

  4. Great food for thought, post, Ana.

    Jennifer, I like what you said about the neutral words calling attention to the profession, rather than the person who holds the job.

  5. Thanks, Debra. Although I still have to confess that when I hear "doctor" I automatically think male.

  6. My thought was that the words we hope are becoming gender neutral are really masculine in reference, and in our society, men still predominate these professions.

  7. I don't think a lot of the words are now considered solely as 'male' professions, but are used for either male or female. During my life, I've had more women doctors than men, for example. I think it's better that the 'female' titles die out and I don't object to the fact that the words which used to apply for males are now used for both. What I don't like is when the word 'female' is put before a professional job title. A woman is a doctor, not a 'female doctor', just as a man can be a nurse, not a 'male nurse'.

  8. Paula, I agree. Ana, since men were the ones with the professions when these words were created, yes, their original meaning was male. But I don't think most of the professions are still male dominated and I think the words have neutralized, at least some of them.

  9. You've said exactly what I was thinking, Jen. Maybe, eventually, there will be no need for the media (and others) to insert either gender word in front of any occupations and professions.
    Having said that, I think some professions ARE still male dominated and that 'glass ceiling' still exits for women in these professions. Politics, for example. Will America have a female President? And religion too - will there ever be a female Pope? But maybe we're better not getting into politics or religion!
    Interestingly, though, I think that the most successful monarchs of the England/UK have been women - Elizabeth I and Victoria and even our present Queen.
    It's a fascinating topic, Ana, so thanks for introducing it!