Submitted by jimvanb on April 25, 2006

Actress instead of Actor

According to the dictionary, Actor simply refers to “person” who acts, . . . etc. While Actress, specifically refers to the female side. Since when (and when is appropriate) the use of Actor to refers to BOTH male or female “action person”?

This is not political, is it? Is it a “woman movement thingie”? Is it a similar “situation” to the word: Director not being distinguishable as to the gender of that person?

Anyone for Directress (female director)?, contractor - contractress, prosecutor - prosecutress, exterminator - exterminatress, etc., etc.

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I'm a woman and an copy editor, which is why I'm researching this issue. I've always wondered, though, in this age of gender neutrality in our language, why women would choose the MALE version of the word? Calling a woman an "actor" by no means diminishes her abilities. I bristle whenever I hear women calling themselves "actors". There's something Orwellian about this. I've asked women actors this, and have never received a clear response. "It's just what we've been doing for awhile." Why don't women just start calling themselves "men"?

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What utter navel-regarding rubbish. While girls in Afghanistan are having acid thrown in their faces for daring to go to school, people have time for this kind of stuff.

Next thing we know, we'll be afraid of calling a problem a problem and start calling it an "issue".

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I agree with the last two posters. I've noticed newscasters consistently referring to women as "actors" too many times to be mistakes so I googled a search to find out what was going on.

I'm for equal rights, but if you really believe the word actress is sexist, you are fringe, baby. Fringe.

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I am a female engineer and I wish I could start using the word "engineeress". I like being a woman and feel pretty empowered as a woman. I"m not a young chick, and went through engineering school with 99% men, I make more money than my husband, I never ever cook, and the thought of having children freaks me out. Yet I like the word "actress" and it makes me sad every time I hear a woman who acts refer to herself as an "actor". It seem like she is diminishing herself, there is real beauty in being a woman and I wish more of us females would embrace it. A woman is a woman because of the way she feels inside; not for what she does for living, her hobbies, or to whom she gives birth.

By the way I agree that if "actor" becomes the sole way to refer to people who act, then if a movie calls for a married couple, couldn't two women, or two men apply for the spouses? If what you need is two actors and not an actor and actress. Also if the word "actor" replaces "actress" I agree that there should only be awards for "actors" and that women and men should not have separate categories.

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Froggy grow, I agree with you. There is nothing sexist about the word "actress." Female thespians CAN call themselves "actors," but why not use this word that is reserved for them? Men in the profession don't have that option. I think it's very much empowering to call yourself an "actress."

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I can myself an actor because I don't believe that the separation is necessary.

A dancer is a dancer.
A writer, a writer.
A poet is and always be a poet.
A painter is a painter period---

but why is an actor an actress?


Gender specification is needed for casting (sometimes), but why keep at the segregation? I am proud to be in an MFA class of ACTORS... both men and women.

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The idea that terms like "actress" and "heroine" are somehow sexist borders on idiocy. If using terms like "chairperson" (a linguistic absurdity) would elevate underpaid immigrant women or third world women or working class women of this country I would use it. But it doesn't. Most p.c. language is little more than an ego trip, a facet of anally retentive nit-picking puritanism of the "holier than thou" variety. People who make a fuss over this really ought to get a life; there are real problems to be worrying about. (Incidentally, I did go to a restaurant in Melbourne, Australia, which had a sign, "The waitperson will attend to you shortly". These people, like VD, are everywhere.)

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This is very definitely a recent, political-correctness-motivated change in the language, though not quite as established as some others. Steward and stewardess have been completely replaced by flight attendant. I laughed the first time I heard of an executrix probating a will. And I don't care what anyone says, I'm not trading my dominatrix for a dominator, EVER.

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For those who claim the use of the word "Actress" came into effect recently, I see two references to the word in dictionaries with the dates of 1668 and 1700 respectively which is about when "women" were first allowed to act on the stage. So contrary to all those who assert that actress is a negative use of a gender role, the origins are in fact when women were empowered to act!

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Odd that this is one of the few jobs where sex actually matters.

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English is not a language that uses separate nouns to distinguish between sexes regularly enough for there to be strong rules regarding such usage. The mixture of linguistic roots in English makes it difficult to apply consistent suffix rules to all of the nouns involved and use of suffixes isn't strong in English for other purposes. As a result, social pressure has put pressure upon those nouns that can distinguish between sexes and has succeded in largely removing them.

During the two world wars but particularly during and after WWII, women became active in professions where men had previously filled almost all positions. There was also some expansion of women's roles in the middle-ages after plagues. Where there had previously been no need for separate masculine and feminine versions of such nouns, the lack of any consistent rules that could be applied made it difficult to find satisfactory solutions in many cases. Combined with social pressure for equality between men and women, the result has been neutralisation of nouns so that they are used non-gender specifically.

The exceptions tend to come with latinate words that remain strongly preserved and have clear modifications for gender specificity. These are the ones that still seem to hold on, but are rapidly disappearing as the language becomes more and more neuter oriented.

An example of a language with much more consistent usage of such nouns is German which consistently uses such nouns. The consistency of usage makes differentiation intrinsic to the language itself and there has been little or no social pressure to change this.

It's also noticeabe that languages that use masculine, feminine and neuter pronouns and noun endings to agree with the gender (like French) have also experienced less pressure to neutralise gender specific nouns.

There are a few gender specific nouns that remain very strongly embedded in English though: Husband and Wife being perhaps the best example. Spouse could be used here just as effectively, but despite considerable pressure on nouns defining gender roles, 'husband ande wife' seem remarkably resisilient in usage.

The roots for the changes in English lie partly in the linguistic make-up of the English language and partly in social pressures toward sexual equality.

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It's a wonder they let women act at all. Can't they be happy with that?

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I still use the word actress. Out-dated, maybe, sexist, no. Those who think it's sexist are just playing mind games with themselves. It's all in their head, and of course those who are actresses are probably liberal so they find any gender pronouns offensive. They need to get a life.

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I notice there has never been any objection by winners of the Best Actress Oscar...

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Adding "ess" the end of a word to identify the female forms has its origins in sexism, not sexual equality. Words such as actress, manageress, etc are sexist identifiers to show that form is not normal and out of the ordinary. Another example would be the use of the word prophetess in the King James Version of the bible.

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(I realize there are old postings here.)

"English is not a language that uses separate nouns to distinguish between sexes regularly enough for there to be strong rules regarding such usage."

But I'll bet those "rules" are strong enough to prevent "actress" from being used for a male actor.

"Adding 'ess' the end of a word to identify the female forms has its origins in sexism, not sexual equality. Words such as actress, manageress, etc are sexist identifiers to show that form is not normal and out of the ordinary."

This is manifest political tosh and quackery applied to language. The "-ess" suffix (as someone noted) has its origins in gender rather than sex (language tip: gender and sex are not synonymous).

What is true is that the "-ess" versions have gone out of fashion.

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Wouldn't it be "exterminatrix"?

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"Manageress"? Never heard that one.
But "waiter/waitress" is one that haunts me.
Is "waiter" good for a woman?
Although I'm a through-and-through feminist,
I stumble on that one.
Does anyone remember "comedian/comedienne"?

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It's PC/feminist claptrap. I don't see any waitresses clamouring to be called "waiters".

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According to Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage, the use of the suffix "ess" to indicate feminine gender for occupations, particularly those traditionally thought masculine, has been debated for at least a century and a half. In the mid-nineteenth century, some American women argued in favor of terms such as "authoress" and "poetess," saying that these elevated the public awareness of women in these professions. This is essentially the argument Amanda makes. That the argument had some validity at the time is borne out by the backlash that occurred against such terms from the literary establishment—mostly male—in the latter nineteenth century.

But by the twentieth century the pendulum had swung, and the trend among feminists was away from "ess" in favor of the un-gendered noun, on the basis that gender is not germane to ability. But as Amanda's comment shows, the pendulum is still in swing.

The problem is that the un-gendered form is almost always also the masculine form, which leads to opposition from some men and from some women, though probably not for compatible reasons. Nonetheless, in most cases I find the un-gendered form preferable, if imperfect. To call Bette Davis a great actor causes no confusion, but to say Eileen Gray was a great architectess would raise eyebrows, at the very least. There are times when "ess" is a useful shorthand for identifying the gender of a person ("actress" remains one of the few relatively non-controversial examples), but in general, when sex is not relevant the gender-neutral form is better, even if it did once imply masculinity. Keep in mind that the reason a word like "engineer" ever implied maleness is that at one time women were denied the occupation; it no longer holds that implication. To begin to now differentiate between "engineer" as "engineeress" invites a new round of sexism.

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I am an actress, and on my resumes, bios, etc., I refer to myself that way. For my female colleagues who want to refer to themselves as actors, I have no problem with that. I, however, like the fact that ladies and gentlemen are inherently different, and for me, vive la difference. And yes, I said "lady", not just woman.

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I was taught English the old way. I learned that the suffix ess was only use on titles, not profession. For example, baron is a title for a British nobleman. Baroness would be the feminine form. Mistress is the feminine form of master. Duchess is the feminine form of duke. Empress is the feminine form of emperor. There are few exceptions, such as lion and lioness. I suppose the modern use of ess is an attitude towards feminism . I could be right, or wrong.

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ACTOR for ACTRESS has been creeping into standard usage for a while. I use it.

I'm sure there are some feminist considerations behind the change, I guess because some women felt that the old -OR/-ESS endings reflected the segregation of men and women into different gender roles.

I use ACTOR all the time to refer to female actors.

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I use actor and waiter for females without even thinking about it. I guess some other people still find it weird. I suggest, start doing it, and you'll quickly get used to it. Just like nobody says authoress or jewess or other pointless specifying of gender.

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Another consideration is that, if you don't use "actor" in a gender-neutral manner, there's really *no* gender-neutral term to refer to people who act. This is as distinct from "husband/wife", where there is always a term "spouse" that one can use in generic situations.

Although acting is indeed one of the few professions in which gender matters, there are still limits as to how *much* it matters...it by and large determines which roles you can apply for (but of course, in many situations, so does race, or height, or age, and we certainly don't have separate words for all of *those*), but the craft is fundamentally the same; what makes someone good is fundamentally the same; etc.

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I just stumbled upon this site while looking for something else and love the idea and name of it.

On the issue of actor vs actress I suspect that the origin may lie somewhere with money. Historically male actors got paid vastly more money than their female colleagues for doing exactly the same thing - acting. It's possible that by calling themselves actors, the 'actresses' were attempting to redress this balance. If I'm wrong then I welcome any correction.

Personally, I prefer to use the distinction. I'm a man but my reason is not a sexist one. It's practical. Just think, when the award season comes around and people talk about Best Actor, they are not referring to the best of both men and women actors - only the men. If the women insist on dropping the 'ess' then I think the Academy should scrap the separate award categories and have one acting award open to all. I'm sure the women should soon drop their objections to being 'esses'!!

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The rejoinder, "said the Bishop to the actor" just doesn't have the same ring.

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An actress I know told me the answer is that actors are serious ones, like for example those who play great Shakespearean leading roles, actresses are for light comedy and other more frivolous work. She says she is an actor but her husband says her greatest role was when she was a bunny in the Playboy Club in London. That is his opinion, and he gets hell from her when he mentions it.

We are then confused by such roles as Mrs Brown's Boys on British television, where it turns out the actress playing the title role is a man. Does that then make him an actor, and is his role serious? I would let the thespian in question tell us what he or she wants to be called and go along with it.

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I`ve noticed this switchover from ``actress`` to ``actor`` in the press over the past 1O years or so. It still sounds odd to me each time I hear it, only because I have always heard ``actor`` to mean a male who acts. However, if the idea is to cease regarding thespians in sexist terms, why is there not a push to get rid of the separation by sex at all the awards shows. We son`t have ``male teacher of the year`` and ``female teacher of the year`` awards, or a framed award at McDonalds for the``male employee of the month`` and ``female employee of the month.``
Regarding the question above about waiters and waitresses, the restaurant industry has largely switched over to refering to ``servers,`` as in ``Janet will be your server this evening`` or ``Please pay your server.``

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There are two reasons:

It's a useful distinction to be able to make in some situations. Anyone who speaks a language that draws the distinction consistently will tell you how useful it is.

Words that arrived in English from Latin and French often maintained the distinction with Actor/Actress being an example from the french words Acteur/Actrice I belive.

In English though, the lack of rule consitency, noun agreement etc make these inherited distinctions less resilient to being dropped and even encourage these separate forms being lost due to complexity (languages tend toward simplification on the whole).

Add to that the social pressures in the latter part of the 20th century and that's why they're falling out of use.

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I am editing a book for Syracuse University Press, and the author is consistently using actor/actress rather than actor for all. This is common in many of my books for university presses.

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@Tom Rose - I have to confess it always amuses me when the Guardian write something like - "such and such an actor has just won the Award for Best Actress".

But more seriously, long before feminism, my mother preferred to be called a manager rather than manageress because in those days manageress suggested a rather lower status (and salary). And in many other professions it's been the same: would we take an authoress as seriously as an author, I wonder? Authoresses and poetesses sound a bit like dilettantes to me; women who dabble in writing rather than serious writers. I would never call Jane Austen an authoress, or Sylvia Plath a poetess, for example. But see douglas.bryant's excellent comment for a more historical context.

I've never seen a status difference in the same way with actors and actresses, but this does seem to have been initiated by the actresses themselves. So perhaps they do perceive some difference, whether it be in status or, as someone has already mentioned, in pay.

Wiktionary suggests that the -ess suffix is often seen as sexist and is declining in use. I think we really have to leave this one up to the people concerned themselves - the actors/actresses. Perhaps we should just let actress go the same way as authoress and poetess.

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Should that be "said the cast-member to the ecclesiastic" ??
Or perhaps is was a "personage a trois" ?? (a threesome)

In the beginning some people had fun with words like wo-people, person-ager, and disagree-people-t. Alas it's all frowned on now.

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I will continue to call a female thespian an 'actress.' Calling Meryl Streep an 'actor' sounds ridiculous to me. However, in the interest of fairness, I will also start calling any female physician a 'doctress.'

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Originally the word "actor" referred to both men and women. It was later that the word "actress" was used for women .

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hi everone, i am currently undertaking a study on the use of -ess. im investigting whether the use of this suffix is on the increase or in decline...if any of you could point out any academic material relating to this i would be gratefl.

thank you.

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hi everone, i am currently undertaking a study on the use of -ess. im investigting whether the use of this suffix is on the increase or in decline…if any of you could point out any academic material relating to this i would be gratefl.

thank you.

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To answer the question, going by Googles ngrams, it looks like that the use of actress peeked out somewhen in the 30s while he use of actor has kept climbing. But it does seem more or less steady for the time being so it hasn't dropped out altogether.

BTW, originally, it was actrix.

The -ess aftfast (suffix) was brought to English by the Norman-French overlords along with many other French/Latin words. One of the old feminine aftfasts was -ster, which is now gender neutral for the most part. But yu can still see it some word pairs:

baker/baxter
brewer/brewster
spinner/spinster

Spinster is likely the only one nowadays that specifically means a woman. But oddly enuff, there is "spinstress" tho that is somewhat redundant.

So nowadays, to feminize a noun the most common way is by benoting the -ess. Tho Latin words ending in -or should benote -rix/trix ... aviator/aviatrix, executor/executrix, asf.

@jmcbride70 --- Engineeress does stand as a word ... But even if it didn't yu could always make it by simply benoting the -ess aftfast.
Philip Guedalla, Conquistador:
"But at least they learned to dance and smile and talk and choose engineeresses appropriate to their engineering futures."

@Donna Simone --- Danceress also stands as a word but it is seld-seen. Writeress, authoress, and poetess are all well known words. I haven't seen painteress but one could gewiss benote it.

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Isn't this a gay/third sex thing? By using the word "actor" for everybody we can use transgender people as girlfriends/boyfriends/husbands/wives in movies. I just don't understand people who are attracted to one sex over the other!

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But, AndyA, why bother having those words: actor and actress in the first place if now seems one (and it is the "actor") that get used more often; just like what Dave Rattigan was saying?

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How wonderfully confusing. Leslie Smith ...for instance, should play Romeo, or Juliette.
Actors of fair gender are always a bit unsecured, hence "I am an actor".

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