dictatress / dictatrix

Discuss word origins and meanings.
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dictatress / dictatrix

Post by Ken Greenwald » Tue Jul 31, 2007 12:21 am

The following discussion of DICTATRESS and DICTATRIX appeared as a response in the posting Gender: political correctness:

On this matter, I’m definitely of the Shelley and Lois school. But for all you chauvinist pigs and others out there who insist on using those sissified suffixes and refuse to cooperate and shape up and give women equal rights to share what should be unisex words, I advise you to run out, at the very first opportunity you get, and use the following feminine form of the word ‘dictator,’ which I just happened to stumble across. And if you like using ‘actress’ you’ll probably love this one. And you need not wait for a dictatorial, female, national leader to appear. A bossy female acquaintance might suffice or even a city, country, ship, or other thing might do. And you’ve got history behind you because this word has been around since 1784 and should be sufficiently fossilized for the most discriminating of Neanderthal tastes. (&lt)

DICTATRESS: A female dictator literally and figuratively [from ‘dictator’ + ‘-ess,’ suffix denoting female persons or animals]
<1784 “Vanity was the universal DICTATRESS.”—‘Barham Downs’ by R. Bage, II. page 1>

<1809 “Earth's chief DICTATRESS, ocean's lovely queen.”—‘English Bards and Scotch Reviewers’ by Byron’>

<1821 “America ... might become DICTATRESS of the world. She would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit."—‘Yale Book of Quotations,’ in address given on July 4>

<1827 “Paris . . . the DICTATRESS . . . of taste . . . to . . .Europe.”—‘ The Life of Napoleon Bonaparte’ by Sir Walter Scott, lxxvi>

<1874 “She was a DICTATRESS in all matters that related to the dress, scenery, and general arrangements.”—‘Ivan De Biron’ by Helps, V. vi. page 290>

<1921 “His [[Disraeli]] Cultivation of Her [[Queen Victoria]] Love for Power Brought Trouble—She Feverishly Demanded War With Russia, Bombarding Her Ministers Day and Night With Messages and Even Threatening to Abdicate—Delighted When Told She Would Be the ‘DICTATRESS of Europe.’ Demanded Title of Empress’” [[article by Lytton Strachey]]—‘Washington Post,’ 18 September, page 54>

<1970 “Prior to his selection as chairman of the investigating committee he had referred to Mrs. Stanford [[“PATRONESS and one-woman board of trustees” (of Stanford University, circa 1900)]] as a ‘DICTATRESS’ in a letter of sympathy and support to Ross [[a professor whose dismissal she forced, apparently for his political views]].”—‘The Pacific Historical Review,’ Vol. 39, No. 1, February, page 59>

<1999 “Mrs. Clinton's desire to be Evita Peron is certainly more believable than Madonna's portrayal of the Argentine fascist DICTATRESS. The unbelievable part is that the state of New York apparently desires to continue Clinton scandals into the next century.”—‘WorldNetDaily,’ 16 February>

<2002 “Donatella Versace: five years after her brother's death. Donatella Versace finally feels comfortable calling the house of Versace her own. . . . But perhaps the ultimate sign that Donatella has arrived came when she joined the ranks of presidents, Enron executives, and Martha Stewart in receiving her own send-up on Saturday Night Live--a black-clad, sun-crisped DICTATRESS, played by Maya Rudolph, who barks throaty orders to her fashion entourage.”—“Harper’s Bazaar.” October>
And if you are afraid to use ‘dictatress’ for fear it may sound sexist and yet you just can’t bring yourself to give a female tyrant equal billing by just calling her a ‘dictator,’ there is always the following slick alternative, which is actually older (1623) than ‘dictatress’ (1784) and which might give one the more relaxed, good old person sense of ‘doing some tricks’ or even remind one of the nonthreatening female name ‘Trixie’:

DICTATRIX noun: A female dictator = ‘dictatress’ (adapted from Latin dictatrix feminine of dictator)
<1623 “DICTATRIX, a woman commanding things to be don.”—‘The English Dictionarie’ by Cockeram>

<1647 “The Church of Rome which is the great DICTATRIX of dogmaticall resolutions.”—‘A discourse of the Liberty of Prophesying’ by Jeremy Taylor, Epistle Dedication, page 42>

<1789 “A DICTATRIX on the seas.”—‘Works (1838-43)’ of Bentham, X. page 206>

<1848 “Mrs. Primmins . . . housekeeper, and tyrannical DICTATRIX of the whole establishment.”—‘The Caxtons’ by Bulwer-Lytton, I. II. ix>

<1874 “. . . the Cincinnati Times says that the New York Herald and Tribune are preparing a veracious narrative that President Grant is engaged in a plot to abdicate the throne in favor of Susan B. Anthony, who will reign as military DICTATRIX, supported by an army dressed in cheiniloona [:?:].”—‘Elyria Independent Democrat’ (Ohio), 4 November, page 2>

<1934 “Gentle DICTATRIX Keeps Doumergue Happy At Home: French Premier's Wife Rules His Private Life With Quiet Tact . . . ‘Papa’ Doumergue, however dictatorial he may be with his new polders as premier of France, meets a DICTATRIX at home.”—‘The Hartford Courant’ (Connecticut), 29 April>

<1949 “‘There must be an aristocracy . . . a Ruler: a Kaiser: no Presidents & democracies’ . . . In letter No. 11 [[D. H. Lawrence to Bertrand Russell on his ideas for a Utopian society]], Lawrence became more emphatic. ‘You must work out the idea of a new state,’ he insisted, underlining the word ‘must’ 15 times. Lawrence suggested that in addition to a male ‘Dictator’ the new state have a female ‘DICTATRIX’ too, in fairness to the female population. ‘Time Magazine,’ 3 January>

<1999 “The Great DICTATRIX . . . We are addressing, of course, the sad case of Margaret Thatcher. It is true that the woman, as DICTATOR in Britain during the 1980s, subjected as many as half of the population to extreme forms of mental torture. ‘The Independent’ (London), 10 October> [[an equal time provider]]

<2000 “The great fashion DICTATRIX Diana Vreeland once decreed that it wasn't bad taste she couldn't stand, but no taste. Now the rules are reversed. The [[Tony]] Blair family is an utterly taste-free zone. Their look is no look at all.”—‘The Independent’ (London), 10 August>
O.K., O.K! So DICTATRESS and DICTATRIX are mostly not used seriously (versus actor/actress, etc., which are). And who can deny – well, at least, I can’t – that such fun usages as the Saturday Night Live 'sun-crisped dictatress,' ‘fashion dictatrix,’ and the ‘great dictatrix’ Margaret Thatcher are good for a chuckle. But on the serious side, as I said at the top, I do strongly agree with what Shelley and Lois have said.

(Oxford English Dictionary and archive sources)
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Ken – July 30, 2007
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