thespian [actress?]

Mnemon

Senior Member
Persian - پارسی - 𐎱𐎾𐎿𐎡
Some dictionaries including Longman, Oxford Learners Dictionary, Macmillan and Cambridge state that the word "thespian" as a noun could only be used for an actor. On the other hand, Lexico asserts that it could be an actress as well. What do you think about it? Could the term be used in reference to an actress?
‘Experienced British thespians Brian Cox and Penelope Wilton have supporting roles as the matriarch and patriarch of the Hewitt clan.’
Any idea!
 
  • suzi br

    Senior Member
    English / England
    Yes. Actresses are actors.
    And
    Thespian is usually used in a self-conscious jokey way these days. It’s certainly not an unproblematic synonym.
     

    Language Hound

    Senior Member
    American English
    I agree with the two posts above.
    Definition of thespian from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language:
    n.
    An actor or actress.
    Generally speaking, thespian is not that commonly used in American English. As a result, many Americans are unfamiliar with the word--I'm speaking of the masses here, not, of course, WR members. Years ago there were many "jokes" involving the word which assumed that the listener would understand "lesbian," which they invariably did.
     

    Mnemon

    Senior Member
    Persian - پارسی - 𐎱𐎾𐎿𐎡
    Thanks.
    "Actresses are actors."
    It's like saying that "She is ..." could simply be replaced by "He is ..."!
    I know, the term is often used humorously these days.

    Years ago there were many "jokes" involving the word which assumed that the listener would understand "lesbian," which they invariably did.
    The only term that I am already familiar with is "West End thespian". Are you implying that using "thespian" with regard to a woman/ an actress could possibly bring the picture of "a lesbian" to the listener's mind!? Please correct me if I misunderstood you.
     

    Egmont

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    ... Are you implying that using "thespian" with regard to a woman/ an actress could possibly bring the picture of "a lesbian" to the listener's mind!? Please correct me if I misunderstood you.
    I think you understand LH correctly; I might have said the same thing. In English, at least, one word often brings a similar-sounding word to mind. There are many jokes based on the concept of a person saying one word and another person hearing a different, but similar-sounding, word. One old example:

    Person A: "Does this bus go to Wembley?"
    Person B: "It's not Wednesday, it's Thursday."
    Person A (or perhaps Person C): "I'm thirsty too. Let's have a drink."

    In the case of thespian/lesbian, the vowel sounds and the stress pattern of both words are identical. So is the last consonant. In the middle, "b" and "p" have similar (but not identical) sounds. Only the initial consonant is truly different. Many native English speakers would think of "lesbian" when they hear "thespian," even if they know exactly what the speaker said.
     

    dojibear

    Senior Member
    English - Northeast US
    "Thespian" is occasionally used in American English (without any joke). I think of "thespian" as a "formal" word -- "actor" is the ordinary word.

    Jokes that use similar-sounding words are called "puns". These jokes are very common in English, especially since everyone can use them. Children often use simple puns for jokes.
     

    grumpyaudeman

    Member
    English
    I am British and have always known the title thespian as male and female actors and like many other British have not confused it with sexual orientation
     

    sdgraham

    Senior Member
    USA English
    Wayyyyyyy back when I was in high school (1950s), the theater group was called the "Thespians," without gender ever entering into it.
     

    suzi br

    Senior Member
    English / England
    Thanks.
    "Actresses are actors."
    It's like saying that "She is ..." could simply be replaced by "He is ..."!
    It isn’t the same.
    There has been / still is a BIG move amongst many professionals to ditch those gender specific markers. Actress is going out of fashion as a term: in that case all “actresses” are, by definition, actors.
     
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    suzi br

    Senior Member
    English / England
    The lesbian/ thespian thing is A JOKE which has been around so long I cannot believe any native speaker doesn’t know it, and the meaning of both. But no-one I know would say thespian in any routine context these days.
     
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    Language Hound

    Senior Member
    American English
    It is not just functionally illiterate (American) folk. As mentioned above, thespian is a formal, not-often-used word in American English. This, coupled with the "dumbing-down" I have witnessed in the U.S. over the last thirty years or so, results in the fact that many native AE speakers will think/hear "lesbian" when/if someone says "thespian."

    The American TV show The Late Show with Jay Leno had a recurring segment called "Jaywalking" where people in the street would be asked what I consider to be very easy, basic questions. I was always shocked by how many people, some of them teachers, were unable to answer correctly. So many viewers thought the segments were scripted (no one could be that stupid, right?) that the show decided to go to college campuses to ask college students questions. The idea was that the college students would be smarter than the average man in the street. Well, guess what? They weren't!

    I know what a thespian is and have known for a very long time, but I don't think I've ever written the word or said it in a conversation (well, perhaps once or twice in my life and only because I was having fun pretending to be pompous and erudite). You may hear thespian in theater circles or come across it in written reviews but, as mentioned above, actor is the usual word in AE.
     

    Barque

    Senior Member
    Tamil
    Actresses are actors."
    It's like saying that "She is ..." could simply be replaced by "He is ..."!
    You don't seem to have looked up the definition of "actor". An actor is a person who acts. Since women are people too, actresses are and always have been actors. There was a convention that "actor" was used for male actors but that's dying out now.

    Could the term be used in reference to an actress?
    The sentence you've quoted in your OP refers to two people as thespians, one of whom is female.

    Longman, Oxford Learners Dictionary, Macmillan and Cambridge state that the word "thespian" as a noun could only be used for an actor.
    Do they actually use the word "only" as you say, or did you read it into the definition? I mean, did you assume that since it refers to "actors", it can only be used for male ones?
     
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