April 9, 2018

When Maureen Dowd used the word "editrix"...

I asked:
By the way, do you find "editrix" jaunty and amusing, annoying and groan-worthy, or evidence that Dowd isn't doing feminism right?
It doesn't really matter who the "editrix" in question was, but it was some former editor of Cosmopolitan and Marie Claire.

I got a lot of interesting answers. Robert Cook went for what I see as the traditional feminist answer:
"Editrix" is anachronistic, as are terms such as "waitress" and "actress," etc. The terms "editor," "waiter," (now "server"), and "actor" are not innately masculine in their connotations, and so are suitable--preferable--when referring to females working at these jobs.

"Editrix" is anachronistic, as are terms such as "waitress" and "actress," etc. The terms "editor," "waiter," (now "server"), and "actor" are not innately masculine in their connotations, and so are suitable--preferable--when referring to females working at these jobs.
Mary Beth did the research:
Yeah, like early 20th Century, when the word was first used. Google Ngram shows it becoming popular in 1911, except for one fluke blip in the graph in 1838. It actually looks like it's becoming more popular.

We don't need gendered nouns in a non-gendered language so the use of one seems like an affectation. It was still the most interesting thing in what I read.
Though rhhardin joked us in a childish direction — "Editrix is for kids" — quite a few minds went straight from "-trix" to "dominatrix." Owen said:
"Editrix" should be "editrice." Sounds less like black leather and fishnet stockings, more classy.
And Ignorance is Bliss said:
I find a sudden urge to check if PornHub has and editrix category, just to see what that might involve.
And I think that's something of what's going on in the mind of tim in vermont:
As a man, I can only say "editrix" communicates female power and competence. But we men know nothing, we think that the sexes are different in many ways not visually obvious.
Similarly, FIDO:
["Editrix"] is perfect for a controlling female authority figure, adding a little panache to an otherwise dreary field.
I'm front-paging all that because I thought this was quite a coincidence yesterday: I was continuing my reading of Mary McCarthy's "Up the Ladder from Charm to Vogue" (in the essay collection "On the Contrary: Articles of Belief"), first blogged about in this post on April 3d (which I was reading because I'd done the research and discovered that it is the first published appearance of the word "Orwellian" (in 1950)). And I encountered the word "editress."
Unlike the older magazines, whose editresses were matrons who wore (and still wear) their hats at their desks as though at a committee meeting at the Colony Club, Mademoiselle was staffed by young women of no social pretensions, college graduates and business types, live wires and prom queens, middle-class girls peppy or sultry, fond of fun and phonograph records....

But beyond the attempt [by Vogue] to push quality goods during a buying recession like the recent one, or to dodge responsibility for an unpopular mode (this year’s sheaths and cloches are widely unbecoming), there appears to be some periodic feminine compulsion on the editresses’ part to strike a suffragette attitude toward the merchants whose products are their livelihood, to ally themselves in a gush with their readers, who are seen temporarily as their “real” friends.
There are 2 other appearances of "editress" in the essay, including one, I realize now, that was in the excerpt I put up on April 3rd:
As an instrument of mass snobbery, this remarkable magazine [Flair], dedicated simply to the personal cult of its editress, to the fetichism of the flower (Fleur Cowles, Flair, a single rose), outdistances all its competitors in the audacity of its conception. It is a leap into the Orwellian future, a magazine without contest or point of view beyond its proclamation of itself, one hundred and twenty pages of sheer presentation, a journalistic mirage....
I'm not going to insist that Maureen Dowd read my blog post, but if it's more than coincidence that her next column uses a feminine form of "editor," I wonder if she considered the word "editress" and opted instead for "editrix" and, if so, why? I think the answer is up there in what various commenters said: "editrix" sounds more exciting and dominating and "editress" is condescending. Mary McCarthy certainly meant to sound condescending as hell.

The OED says the "-trix" ending began in English with some words adopted from the Latin — administratrix, executrix, persecutrix, etc. And: "The suffix has occasionally been loosely used to form nonce-feminines to agent-nouns in -ter, as paintrix n. instead of the regular paintress. The commoner suffix in English is -tress suffix...." That is, when you go for "-trix" rather than "-tress" to goof around with feminizing one of those nouns about things people do, you're being weirder, and therefore going for an effect, like making us laugh or get excited, which is what Dowd did.

68 comments:

rehajm said...

For a time -tron was kicked around as the gender neutral suffix, albeit in a satirical way. I found it appropriate for a job with low prestige.

tim maguire said...

I'm the only male editor in my organization, but I am not the only editor. I see no purpose served in making a female form of a gender neutral noun. Editrix just sounds weird.

Ann Althouse said...

@rehajm

Notice that the post contains the quote: "Unlike the older magazines, whose editresses were matrons..."

JimT Utah said...

The prototype is victrix, the feminine of victor, a Latin noun of the third declension, derived from the verb vinco, vincere. The plural of victrix is victrices. Still in use in girls' schools where Latin is in common use as in victrix ludorum. Many masculine words ending in -or have feminine forms ending in -ix.

Question: is the proper plural form of Kleenex Kleenices?

AJ Lynch said...

I prefer the gender neutral idiotor.

Charlotte Allen said...

The Latin ending "-trix" is the feminine form of the Latin ending "-tor" (the masculine form). Nouns ending with either "-tor" or "-trix" are known as agency nouns because they properly denote the agent or doer of an action. Agency nouns are usually derived from the past participle of a verb. Thus, "victor," "victrix" ("conqueror") from the Latin verb "vincere" ("to conquer," past participle: "victum").

I don't understand the objection to feminine forms. Why does a woman always have to be referred to by a masculine form? I think "editrix" is kind of cute--although it's no longer standard these days. I've always liked "poetess," for example. Sappho was always referred to by the ancients as "THE Poetess," the female equivalent of Homer.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

...there appears to be some periodic feminine compulsion on the editresses’ part to strike a suffragette attitude...

I'm guessing the period is approximately every 28 days...

buwaya said...

JimT and Charlotte have the right of it.

Bay Area Guy said...

I had this smoking hot red-headed girlfriend in my early 20s. She was one of these driven hotties, attending Med School at the time, totally ambitious and hyper-competitive, and really aggressive in the sack.

I called her the "Erectrix"

Robert Cook said...

"Robert Cook went for what I see as the traditional feminist answer."

Actually, I didn't consider whether it was the "traditional feminist answer" at all; I was thinking of it in terms of necessity: such suffixes denoting a female performing a job are simply unnecessary. As I said: anachronistic.

I was puzzled by Mary Beth's rejoinder. Does she imply that a term introduced within the last century cannot be anachronistic? If that is her meaning, I disagree. I find this definition online of anachronistic: "belonging or appropriate to an earlier period, especially so as to seem conspicuously old-fashioned."

Well, "editrix" certainly comes from an earlier period, and its use today seems old-fashioned.

rehajm said...

Notice that the post contains the quote: "Unlike the older magazines, whose editresses were matrons..."

Matron would derive from Latin matr- (mother) and matrona while -tron is a play on the Greek suffix relating to instrument and/or the physics for particles (neutron, electron), or later, to a robot.

rhhardin said...

There's server and serverette.

Otto said...

This is all so distrixing to women etymologists.

Anonymous said...

It occurs to me that when I worked in an office as a copy editor (instead of as a freelancer), the great majority of other copy editors were women there. So I wonder if the noun "editor" is already gendered female by usage, as it were.

An older solution to this was, for example, to address the woman who presided at a meeting as "Madame Chairman." In some ways this was less gender conscious; it went ahead and used the noun ending in -man, and it just set aside the assumption that it referred to someone mail.

buwaya said...

Anachronistic is good.

There is way too much of the "year zero" about these days.
The US was not about the "year zero".
It was deliberately founded on classical models.
The new thing created after the world was turned upside down looked to ancient Rome and Greece.

Etienne said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
William said...

Low status jobs should be gender neutral. Attention should be paid to women who occupy high status jobs. That's the way these things work out in the new world order.. I wonder why there is no female term for a saint.

WK said...

There is a Facebook site called “Die Editrix”. However, all the content is in German. Maybe that is their word for it....... or something.

Big Mike said...

I'll repeat what I said yesterday: words such as "editrix" hearken back to days when it was naturally assumed that a woman doing a man's job would do it poorly, but let's give the sweet thing credit for trying. Cookie's right in that since the 1970s we've assumed that a woman doing a man's job would do it as well as a man. Since about 2010 I sense that that has been changing as we, as a nation, continue to water down our expectations when a woman does science or engineering or any of a number of challenging jobs.

traditionalguy said...

I always thought trix was the singular and trices was the plural endings in Latinized titles.
But that was struck out when the Code was rewritten in the 1980s. Now they all go by the male denominator.



Amexpat said...

Not only is "editrix" an odd usage, it's redundant when talking about the editor of Cosmopolitan as it's safe to assume that the editor would be a female. So, there's no need to point it out.

SDaly said...

Why are "actor" and "waiter" better than "actress" and "waitress". They do, in fact have male connotations. Having two separate words allows each to succinctly convey more information to the listener. Otherwise, we have to use longwinded word salad like "Best Supporting Actor in a Female Role" in place of "Best Supporting Actress".

I find the term "server" which is phonetically close to "servant" to be more offensive than "waiter."

Also, when you read that a "firefighter" was unable to save someone because of an inability to carry an unconscious person from a burning building, it would be easier to understand the full story if they just used the term "firewoman".

gspencer said...

The Mrs. is instructed to sign all Christmas cards as follows,

"The Honorable Spencer & Uxor"

Hagar said...

How about "editorette"?

tcrosse said...

What exactly is to be gained by depriving our language of amusing and interesting words ? Who benefits from neutering our vocabulary ?

Robert Cook said...

"Anachronistic is good."

Perhaps, in certain circumstances, but you'd have to show examples.

Using suffixes to denote a female performing a function draws attention to the gender of the person referred to, suggesting it is so unusual a situation that it warrants being pointed out. It seems condescending.

I like the word "aviatrix" as a word, but it doesn't serve any necessary purpose.

Bruce Hayden said...

Know someone getting their doctoral degree next month, and asked her if she wanted to be addressed as “Doctorette” or” Doctoress”? “Doctora” was almost acceptable, since they had a minor in Spanish. I will see if “Doctorix” fares any better. Expect it will face the same fate as Doctorette and Doctoress, with me running out of the room in advance of thrown objects. The “ette” ending does seem more flexible that the “ess” ending - it can be slapped on more words to make them almost plausibly feminine. Think “Attorneyette”, “Dentistette”, etc. I expect that it will be better, in the long run, than “ix” too. We shall see.

Joe Veenstra said...

I personally prefer a word to be as descriptive as possible. If you say actress, you know you are talking about a female who acts. If you not describing a particular person, a gender neutral is preferable, e.g., firefighter vs. fireman/firewoman/fireperson. Using a gender specific version of a gender neutral noun is not particularly helpful if you already know the gender of the person or persons you are describing.

I wonder if there has been an intellectual undertaking in the romance languages to remove the gender identifiers for gender-neutral objects, e.g., le ventana (why is a window female?).

Robert Cook said...

"Think “Attorneyette”, “Dentistette”, etc. I expect that it will be better, in the long run, than “ix” too. We shall see."

No good will come from this. Just think of the connotation of "kitchenette" as compared with "kitchen."

FIDO said...

I think there is an emotional similarity to what a female editor would do to my prose and that which a dominatrix would hypothetically do to my bottom.

Sure, it's the same as if a man edits, but vive le difference adds it's own tone.

buwaya said...

Good point about "doctora".
In Spanish these terms are gendered as SOP.
It sounds stupid otherwise.
Not that there aren't a few absurdly affected, Anglosphere-brainwashed people who insist on degendering Spanish.
There is a nice video interview of Perez-Reverte on the absurdity of it.

Quaestor said...

Join the Resistance! The woman who fills your tea glass is a waitress. If she insists on being called a server, leave her a check for $1.00 and explain why on the memo line.

Quaestor said...

I've always liked "poetess," for example. Sappho was always referred to by the ancients as "THE Poetess," the female equivalent of Homer.

How did they do that? The ancient Greeks had no way to say "a poetess", lacking as they did an indefinite article. The Latins had no articles of either kind.

tim in vermont said...

If she insists on being called a server, leave her a check for $1.00 and explain why on the memo line.

Yes, I will write: “You didn’t meet my emotional needs!”

Just kidding, they will have a long wait until those of us who insist on calling them waitresses die off.

tim in vermont said...

I like the word “aviatrix" as a word, but it doesn't serve any necessary purpose.

My favorite “aviatrix” was Ann from the book “Ann Can Fly” which I read in fifth grade because my teacher told me I should read other stuff besides the encyclopedia.

walter said...

An Editrix services those who get off on word-play.

tim in vermont said...

Who benefits from neutering our vocabulary ?

Cui bono?!?!?!!!

Those who think they have a scientific answer to the problem of governing ourselves, ahem (cough, Cook, cough!) and think that all of history is just wrongheaded and should be ignored.

Sam L. said...

Aviatrix?

tim in vermont said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
tim in vermont said...

Holy crap! I should have kept that book! A copy is now worth $70!

Check out Ann Can Fly through the Althouse portal. I recommend it for a young person, it made a big impression on me.

Earnest Prole said...

All I know is that the name Trixie sounds delightfully naughty.

Bay Area Guy said...

Fellatrix has a nice ring to it. A sexy etymologist might enjoy that particular avocation.

tim in vermont said...

We all know too what “tricks” are.

tcrosse said...

Fellatrix has a nice ring to it.

But Robert Cook said:
"Using suffixes to denote a female performing a function draws attention to the gender of the person referred to, suggesting it is so unusual a situation that it warrants being pointed out. It seems condescending."

Presumably "cocksucker" is a more enlightened usage.

Robert Cook said...

Actually, referring to any person by a sexual act they perform seems reductionist and belittling, no matter if the word is the seemingly elegant fellatrix or the more blunt "cocksucker."

Lucien said...

Limerance is only really important if you are dating a man from Nantucket.

madAsHell said...

e.g., le ventana (why is a window female?).

Really??? There's a dick joke in here someplace.

tim in vermont said...

Really??? There’s a dick joke in here someplace.

Yeah, but we defenestrated it.

Howard said...

Editrix = Katherine Hepburn
Editress = Rita Hayworth

tcrosse said...

Actually, referring to any person by a sexual act they perform seems reductionist and belittling.

Not everyone who practices that feels belittled or reduced, however much others might think it so.

Robert Cook said...

"Not everyone who practices that feels belittled or reduced, however much others might think it so."

I didn't say that practicing the act itself should or would cause someone to feel belittled, but someone might feel belittled who was simply referred to as a cocksucker or fellatrix, as if that summed up what that person was.

tcrosse said...

as if that summed up what that person was.

One could say the same for epithets like 'Cigarette Smoker' or 'Oatmeal Eater'.

Anonymous said...

When I see "fellatrix" I envision a woman, but when I see "cocksucker" I envision a fellator.

Howard said...

Instead of accommodating the weak, the focus should be on socializing people to be mentally tougher. The opposite of the smelf-esteam bowel movement.

Howard said...

Cocksucker is mail gendered. In bootcamp, the DI's didn't call our mouths filthy sewers like Gunny Hartman, they called them cocksuckers.

Robert Cook said...

"One could say the same for epithets like 'Cigarette Smoker' or 'Oatmeal Eater'."

How often are people referred by such terms?

Moreover, where sex is concerned, there are always greater auras of meaning in what is said, and how, and to or about whom. To refer to someone simply as a cocksucker/fellatrix has a faintly (or not so faintly) pejorative connotation.

To say, "I spent the night with a fellatrix from St. Louis" is entirely different than to say, "I spent the night with a woman I met from St. Louis. She went down on me and was really good at at!"

buwaya said...

Fellatrix implies a certain veteran stature, a professionalism, worthy of respect perhaps, on that score.

On in whose capable - hands, one puts this business.

the 4chan Guy who reads Althouse said...

I think a female editor chick should be called an 'editella'.

Because then it sounds all Italian and fancy and shit, and chicks dig that.

Like, if Meade called Althouse a 'Bloggadella' she'd probably get all swoony and shit.

Then, while they're all smiling and feeling good you ask them if they want to see your pepperoni.

Robert Cook said...

"Instead of accommodating the weak, the focus should be on socializing people to be mentally tougher. The opposite of the smelf-esteam bowel movement."

We should encourage the use of insulting, belittling, degrading terms when speaking about others, the better to "socialize people to be mentally tougher." Fuck all that propriety and good manners and respectfulness toward others shit.

Bad Lieutenant said...


Bay Area Guy said...
Fellatrix has a nice ring to it. A sexy etymologist might enjoy that particular avocation.

4/9/18, 12:00 PM

Fellatio-fellatrix, fellator.
Irrumatio-irrumator, ...there is no irrumatrix.
Let alone irrumqtrices.
...maybe this explains the new math.

tim in vermont said...

Forget it Robert, it’s Althouse...

Robert Cook said...

Call me "Jake."

tcrosse said...

Shall we call Althouse La Prima Bloggerina Assoluta ?

Lydia said...

I think the main reason Dowd used "editrix" is that it has been shorthand for a tough, powerful, and domineering female editor since at least the time of Diana Vreeland. And it's usually reserved for those working in the fashion/glamour field, although the term was often slapped on Tina Brown as well.

Anonymous said...

Bad lieutenant:

Futuitor, but not futuitrix
Pedicator, but not pedicatrix
Cevetor and cevetrix
Lingator and lingatrix
Fricator and fricatrix

But of course all that changes if you allow the use of prostheses.

tim in vermont said...

So is a prostitute who “caters to the unusual” a peccadillatrix?

Rigelsen said...

“I like the word "aviatrix" as a word, but it doesn't serve any necessary purpose”

You may lack a basic curiosity about the world, but isn’t it a bit arrogant to believe everyone shared your deficiency?

Anyway, if you don’t like the word, or don’t believe it conveys a necessary distinction in a particular context, just don’t use it. No reason to demand that others hew to your personal compulsions.

If, on the other hand, if you’re simply trying to convince others who might disagree that you have a better way, making categorical assertions like that are unlikely to be helpful.

Robert Cook said...

Why do you assume my stating my opinions is a de facto demand that others abide by them? Do you expect others to abide by your opinions?