murderer/actor vs murderess/ actress

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Arrius

Senior Member
English, UK
For some time I have notice the words murderer and actor, traditionally used as the masculine and general forms, being applied in both British and American English to specific females in place of the feminine forms murderess and actress. This strikes me as going against the feminist current in the present evolution of English where, for instance, humankind is insisted upon to avoid the man in mankind (although human probably comes from Latin homo=man anyway).
Has anybody noticed the tendency first mentioned in these and/or other examples, and can anybody come up with an explanation?
 
  • Lexiphile

    Senior Member
    England English
    I think this is a symptom of the general "neuterification" of such words. "Guy" used to be used only for men and boys, but it now means anyone.

    When I'm driving and my wife is navigating, I refer to her as my navigatrix -- but then I always buck the trend.
     

    Arrius

    Senior Member
    English, UK
    Strangely enough,Lexiphile, fifty years ago my father in London who spoke a colloquial but generally conservative brand of English used to refer to my mother as "a grand guy". However, I personally have only ever used the word for the effigy of the Catholic plotter, burnt each November 5th, who tried to blow up the House of Commons together with the King - Guy Fawkes.
    PS And thank you for the enlightening forum link, Trisia. By getting rid of actress, waitress etc. it seems to me that the feminist lobby is cutting off its nose to spite its face. I wonder if duchess is going to be converted to duck??
     
    I have often heard c'mon guys or how are you doing, guys and similar referring to a mixed sex group, or even just females; I would say 30+ is the age here.

    I have never heard guy applied to a female, and I have certainly encountered it many times applied to a man/young male; also by young people, as a less matey form of bloke, I think.
     

    Arrius

    Senior Member
    English, UK
    You will, in fact, find in the dialogue of American films that a girl often addresses a group of her exclusively female friends as "you guys". (An agèd American female will, however, call a gathering of her female peers, "girls" - also somewhat incongruously)
     

    Lexiphile

    Senior Member
    England English
    Ok, perhaps I should be a little more precise. When I said "used to be," I meant in the 1950's and 60's. I first heard "guy" used by a Canadian girl to refer to a woman in about 1973 and it seemed very strange indeed. I guess the 30+ line is about right, for America. In England it came in a bit later.
     

    Brioche

    Senior Member
    Australia English
    Back in the olden days, a guy was definitely male.

    Hence the musical Guys and Dolls, written in 1950.

    In 1952 Doris Day had a big hit with "A Guy is a Guy".

    In much more recent times, I've heard guys refer to a group of girls,
    but never guy to mean an individual girl.
     
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