Friday, December 10, 2010

Actor or Actress?

Something that came up the other day in a quiz - the use of the word actor to demote both male and female thespians. I've always used actor as male and actress as female, but it seems my father is not in favour of that. Now this might be a simple shift in language usage to make in gender neutral, but is this a new shift or a return?

Actor derives from the Latin actus (to do) and -or to turn it into a masculine noun therefore actor is a 'male doer'. In Latin the opposite suffix is -rix therefore the feminine version should be actrix. So what happened? Well it seems the alternative suffix -issa was used this has devolved in English to -ess and became actress. Therefore actor should denote a male, and actress (or better yet actrix) a female.

So on the same subject comedian and comedienne? This time the derivation is Greek and that language uses participles to denote agents with the words themselves being male/female/neutral. In this instance it seems that that the -enne suffix was added in French and carried over into English. Therefore strictly speaking a comedian can represent both a male and a female.

Huh you learn something new every day.