Authoress

This is the place to post questions and discussions on usage and style. The members of the Wordwizard Clubhouse will also often be able to help you to formulate that difficult letter.

Re: Authoress

Post by Bobinwales » Thu Jan 10, 2019 11:59 pm

Shelley wrote:
Thu Jan 10, 2019 7:53 pm
I dunno, Bob, some bigoted snipers have accused them of having no sense of humor at all!
I dunno either, even though my daughter is married to a lady.
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Re: Authoress

Post by Shelley » Fri Jan 11, 2019 9:09 pm

Bob, glad to hear they are still together. It's not easy to stay married -- my husband and I celebrated our 30th recently and are pretty proud of ourselves!

ANYWAAAY -- again with the deja vu feeling, I dredged up some prior discussions on nonsexist language. (Sorry, you'll have to tolerate my mess, 'cause I haven't re-learned how to make a link, yet.) They are over a decade old, and yet the same arguments are put forward today. Have we moved an inch? Hard to say, but the discussions are fun to read in a nostalgic sort of way. Over time, my views on the topic of the feminization of occupation titles haven't changed much, but I'm more inclined to roll my eyes instead of resort to blows over it. Because I'm older, I don't care as much whether people like me, and if they insult me I just disconnect them (I'm a receptionist). Why oh why do we keep having to fight the same fights over and over again? (Of course, I employ the Royal "We". :wink: )

The fact that there was a specific exchange in 2007 between gdwdwrkr and me about the very word "authoress" made me wonder if trolley brought this up just to bait me/us. "Maybe it was before his time," I thought, but nope, trolley's there. Trolley, don't you think context resolves a lot of ambiguity where gender isn't explicitly stated? I do. It's true that sometimes I have to think about it, but that doesn't hurt - yet.

Interestingly, I just read an elevator news-bite about a woman of note, described as "writer, producer, director": as I read, I thought how funny-weird it would have looked with "authoress, produceress, directrix" . . . So, I guess, somehow, we have moved an inch. At least we've saved a column inch or two in type-setting.

And yes, tony h, in my peripheral experience with television production, all actors, anchors, speakers, etc. are referred to as "Talent".

And Erik, I would take "Murderess!" as a very derogatory epithet indeed, unless, of course, I did it.

Cheers all!
Signed, Wordbitch

P.S. Aw, hell -- the link doesn't work at all. So, the discussion titles are "Gender: political correctness" and "nonsexist language". Sorry folks, I'll get it right next time.

P.S.S. Someone (Phil White, I believe it was you) very kindly fixed my link failure above. Thank you very much!
Last edited by Shelley on Fri Jan 18, 2019 7:41 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Authoress

Post by gdwdwrkr » Fri Jan 11, 2019 9:43 pm

Thanks for the back-references.
History - it's all new again!
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Re: Authoress

Post by Phil White » Fri Jan 18, 2019 1:39 pm

I don't know how I missed that thread last time round!

I offer this 2011 article from the Guardian with no comment.

Nope, things have not moved on. It is still the case that some actresses prefer to be called actresses and some actors who happen to be female prefer to be called actors, and it is unrealistic for me or anyone else who wishes to refer to, for example, Jodie Foster's or Charlize Theron's profession to be expected to know their particular preference.

Of course, the biggest nonsense is that the Oscars (and other awards) have best actor and best actress awards, but not simply the best actor of either gender, which IMHO the above-mentioned Jodie Foster should have taken many times over.

As far as "authoress" is concerned, I don't believe I have ever used it. Neither do I regularly use "author". I think I would always prefer "writer", "novelist", "poet", "playwright" and so on. Nothing to do with political correctness, I just don't use the word author.
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Re: Authoress

Post by Erik_Kowal » Fri Jan 18, 2019 4:02 pm

The controversy over what terminology is appropriate to use reflects the fact that for some people, a term like 'actress' or 'princess' describes an objective difference, whereas for others it is a vehicle for perpetuating sex stereotypes.

As the above-mentioned article in The Guardian highlights, a confounding factor is the context of the term: in the headline "[Name of male director] accused of chasing actresses", the use of 'actresses' instead of 'actor' contextualizes the director's alleged activities in relation to a society in which patriarchal attitudes towards women (and the abuse thereof) are perceived to still be widespread.

Whether such a headline also helps to reinforce those patriarchal attitudes is an open question.
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Re: Authoress

Post by Shelley » Fri Jan 18, 2019 8:56 pm

This is an area that allows for, and requires, a lot of flexibility. People have to be able to use a gender-specific term if it's needed in order to clarify meaning. If context doesn't make a headline clear, then yes, a gender-specific word has to be used: "Key Grip Won't Keep Hands Off Best Boy" will mislead if the Best Boy is actually a woman. 'Course, the ambiguity will sell more papers - you have to buy it to get the details! And I agree with Erik, people read into it whatever they are predisposed to think.

Where it's not needed, though, we should keep it simple. It's not important to me whether the pilot of my plane is a woman or a man -- it's important to me, only, that she or he is older than 12, 'cause that's how old they all look to me, now! Same with the surgeons, and the mechanics. As I said over a decade ago: it really shouldn't be so hard to separate the reasonable from the ridiculous in this matter. The persistence of some people to complicate this is frustrating. Notice the argument always seems to center on the terms "actor" v. "actress". For some reason, it really drives some people crazy to call a woman an actor. On the other hand, I would never call the Princess of Denmark the Prince of Denmark, and if someone insisted that I do it, I'd make like Kate the Shrew.

The idea of eliminating gender-specificity in the film industry's Academy Awards is a really interesting one. By awarding only one Oscar for "Best Leading Talent" (for example), and for "Best Supporting Performer", we could cut that sucker down to two and a half hours instead of the usual three! Didn't someone propose this idea years ago on this site?

I really believe the words we use can and do, in fact, change the world -- for the better or the worse. Period.
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Re: Authoress

Post by Phil White » Fri Jan 18, 2019 9:05 pm

Well said!
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Re: Authoress

Post by trolley » Fri Jan 18, 2019 9:26 pm

Shelley, no. I didn't post that to stir up some crap, just for fun. I truly had forgotten all about that previous discussion (but it was an interesting read). I agree with your statement that context often clears up ambiguity. That's why the use of authoress seemed odd to me. We already had been made aware of Mrs Soandso's gender. She was a Mrs. and a mother. "Authoress" struck me as unnecessary. It was only after I looked it up that I realized that it should have struck me as offensive. As far as making progress in this area, I think we have and are. At least, I are. It wasn't that many years ago that I would place help-wanted ads for my distribution center looking for an experienced "warehouseman" or a "storesman". I wasn't specifically looking for a male and, until it was pointed out to me, I was totally oblivious to the fact that I was excluding or insulting a good number of candidates. Live and learn.
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Re: Authoress

Post by Shelley » Fri Jan 18, 2019 9:52 pm

Yeah, trolley, the use of "authoress" by the interviewer in your opening post was weird and jarring. Anachronistic. Who knows what they were thinking. My guess is, they probably weren't.

Say, what is a brief and concise gender-neutral term for warehouseman? Warehouse worker? By the way, I'm not one who objects to the word "man" in all cases where it occurs within a larger construction. Humankind is fine. I like to say people or folks.

So, maybe you didn't stir up the argument "just for fun", but I had fun talking about it anyway!
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Re: Authoress

Post by trolley » Fri Jan 18, 2019 10:25 pm

I use "warehouse worker", now. I'm happy to see any discussion going on here. I think Bob, Erik, Tony, Phil and I had pretty well heard all of each other's stories by now. If it wasn't for Steven, Navi and Azz asking questions there wouldn't have been much going on at all. It's refreshing to have you and James participating again.
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Re: Authoress

Post by Phil White » Fri Jan 18, 2019 11:26 pm

The old thread did remind me of a genuine occurrence about 25 or more years ago in Germany.

In the brief time I was actually employed in a large translation department, one of my colleagues was a tiresome feminist. Not tiresome because she was a feminist, but because she had no other conversation whatsoever. Actually, if you persevered, which few people did, she was a very pleasant person to talk with and we got on well together... But I digress.

She had a habit of always calling out men who held doors open for her, and I was brung up proper, so I always hold doors open for anyone. I have to admit to rather enjoying this exchange as we were making our way into the canteen:

H: You don't have to hold the door open for me.
Me: I'm not. I'm holding it open for the guy with the blind cane you just walked in front of.

Shelley is right. It is not easy to embrace change without promoting absurdity. One of the biggest problems lies not in the words we use. Take the old, old riddle:
A father and son are in a horrible car crash that kills the dad. The son is rushed to the hospital; just as he’s about to go under the knife, the surgeon says, “I can’t operate - that boy is my son!”
How many of you worked out that the operating surgeon was the dead man's gay husband? Or, of course, wife, which is the normal answer to the riddle. The problem is not with the word "surgeon" (or "engineer" or "cashier" or "cleaner"). It is with our associations with those words, which are driven by reality. If I say that my best friend works at the checkout in a supermarket, you have already guessed that my best friend is female. Wrong! I don't have any friends, but the point is valid: "works at checkout" = female. And the more enlightened among us may manage to correct our first assumption, but it remains our first assumption because the reality is that most people who work at checkouts in supermarkets are women.

My own take is that it is more important to change reality before we change language. Indeed, when we do change reality, language will change of its own accord. We may be able to nudge it on its way a little.

The ubiquitous use and almost unchallenged acceptance of "chair" in political parties of all colours in the UK and in the public sector is the result of reality having changed in the past 40 or 50 years. I can remember people chortling at me at party meetings in the 80s when I insisted on its use in reference to me, the (male) chair of the local branch. Nowadays, women are chairs of many organizations, chair committees and are senior managers in the public sector, are elected to office as a matter of course and so on. "Chair" is absolutely accepted. But the same forty or fifty years have not brought the same change in the private sector. We still have "chairman of the board". And it is still reflecting reality.

And the "CEO"? Even though the expanded form of the abbreviation is rarely used, and "officer" is theoretically gender-neutral, we try to give shape to the concept of "CEO" if we hear the phrase "the CEO of Acme Toothpicks". And because people have a gender, we give a male or female shape to the CEO, even though we have never met or seen them. Reality dictates that if we give a male shape to the concept, we will probably be right. For me, "doctor" passed that visualization watershed a few years back, and I genuinely do not assume a male when I hear "doctor". "Surgeon" probably has not passed that threshold, but again, it is reality that is lagging behind. I have had many surgical interventions of various kinds over the past 25 years, but it was only a couple of months ago that a woman operated on my eye. All the rest were men.

And much the same will apply to things like actor/actress. "Actor" for a female is becoming unremarkable because the industry has been changing for many years. Women are no longer just sexy adornments to the leading male. They are taking leading roles in drama, action, romance, comedy, ... you name it. It is not yet an industry in which equality and respect for women prevail, but it is well on its way. And the use of "actor" is reflecting that. Not yet wholly unremarkable, but certainly no longer astonishing.
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Re: Authoress

Post by trolley » Sat Jan 19, 2019 12:38 am

Phil wrote:
“If I say that my best friend works at the checkout in a supermarket, you have already guessed that my best friend is female. Wrong! I don't have any friends, but the point is valid: "works at checkout" = female. And the more enlightened among us may manage to correct our first assumption, but it remains our first assumption because the reality is that most people who work at checkouts in supermarkets are women.”


Last year, I hired a new warehouse worker. Over the months there were some things I learned about her. These weren’t judgemental observations. They were just things I associated with her. She had red hair, she was a bit shy, she was good at arithmetic, had a slightly warped sense of humour, understood the “team concept” and she was gay. She often spoke of her “partner”. Her partner and her had seen such and such movie, she had been to a particular restaurant with her partner and she often had to check her partner’s schedule if she needed to work late. At the staff Christmas party, I met her partner and couldn’t have been more surprised when she introduced him. A very nice fellow. In the past few years the word “partner” (in a personal relationship sense) has been adopted and almost exclusively been used by the gay community to mean one’s same-sex “significant other”. I thought a lot about how far I had missed the mark…not that it really made any difference at all whether she was or wasn’t gay but how I had been so easily mistaken. They are not married so he would not be her husband or spouse. He is too old (or it may seem insulting) to call him her “boyfriend”. “Partner” seems a reasonable description but some gender neutral labels can lead to assumptions and assumptions can lead…well, to somewhere you hadn’t intended on going.
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Re: Authoress

Post by Erik_Kowal » Sat Jan 19, 2019 3:37 am

Boyfriend, girlfriend, lover, man friend, woman friend, partner, companion, cohabitant, significant other (ugh!)... It's a minefield out there!

I still remember the email I received from one of my American cousins some 20 years ago in which she referred to her then-boyfriend as her POSSLQ, a near-unpronounceable and ghastly acronym (evidently thought up by the US Census Bureau in around 1979) meaning "person of opposite sex sharing living quarters". A less appealing designation for a lover was never invented.

Fortunately that term never made it across the Atlantic to Britain (or if it did, its circulation was minimal), and during the 14 years I lived in the US I don't think I heard it used even once. (And no wonder!)
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Re: Authoress

Post by tony h » Sat Jan 19, 2019 1:20 pm

A couple of anecdotes.

In about 2004 I had to take a young technician to a meeting at a law firm. Most of my briefing was about the technicalities, politics and attendees. They included IT and Jeff an old partner. A few days later at the office I was asked if I was homosexual. (OK you have got there before I finish.) The young lad had taken "old partner" to be "old lover". But the use of partner for lover has caused multiple confusions as to whether people are talking about personal partners or business partners.


Secretary is a title that to me goes masculine first. The only secretaries I knew when I was young were my grandfather's secretary and John Boyd Carpenter who was Secretary to the Treasury. So first impressions stay with you.


Foreign names are always a challenge especially in international organisations. Emails from Jean and Michelle need clarification.
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I'm puzzled therefore I think.

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