Are you an author or an authoress?

tumblr_ljm7ijPs9K1qfvf7lo1_500English is a language that doesn’t really assign a gender for each noun in the dictionary, unlike German or Latin. A word’s gender can determine what endings the word receives depending on its usage, and what endings adjectives used to describe it receive.

For example, one would say, Ich kenne die junge Frau (“I know the young woman”), or Ich kenne den jungen Mann (“I know the young man”). Because Frau is a feminine noun, it receives a certain article (die) and a certain ending on the adjective jung (young), an “e.” Meanwhile, Mann is masculine in German, so it receives the article den and jung receives an “en” on the end.

We don’t have these kinds of strict grammar rules when it comes to nouns in English. One can know the young man, the young woman, or the young block of wood, and it’s all the same word. We do, however, have a holdover from the past that is inconsistent in its use and should probably be dropped. That’s the use of different words to distinguish between the male and female version of something.

We’ve all heard of the executor of a will. Why should a female executor be called an “executrix”? Stewards are men, but if one is a female and a steward, she must be called a stewardess. The same with waiter and waitress and actor and actress (although actress is falling out of favor somewhat)… Governess and empress are seldom heard today, but there are still drum majors and drum majorettes.

ia10Why aren’t male seamstresses “seamsters”? Why don’t occupations held by both men and women have two versions, one for each gender? Both Patsy Cline and Roy Orbison are singers. Teachers, professors and doctors can be either male or female. And you never hear of an administratrix of the college admissions department.

What about Congressman? Should we distinguish between Congressman and Congresswoman, and call them Congresspeople? Do you remember when Sen. Barbara Boxer from California chastised a brigadier general for addressing her as “ma’am” and not “Senator”?

It sure would simplify things if we could agree on one word to describe an occupation, regardless of the gender of the person performing it. I think it would help avoid some awkward situations and bring English into the 21st century.

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