Waiter and actor (feminine nouns and masculine nouns)

I?ve always known waiter/waitress; actor/actress.

Nevertheless, I?ve recently seen some notes in a new textbook (by Clive Oxenden, Paul Seligson andLatham-Koenig - edition 2005) that explain waiter and actor may be applied both to men and women.

Is it …so?

Something similar happened some time ago with words meaning shops and owners:

I used to say: She?s a hairdresser but
I went to the hairdresser?s.

Then I came to know we could leave the possesive (?s) out by saying “I went to the hairdresser”…hum…
I understood that had to be with time and common usage…
Could it be the same with actor/waiter?



When I was in art school, our feminist professors made us stop saying “sculptress”, so we called both women and men “sculptors”. I haven’t heard “sculptress” in many years.

I have never heard a woman called a waiter, and I think that gender is so burned into the minds of Americans, when it comes to the words waiter and waitress, that they have begun avoiding the discomfort by calling them both servers. Nonetheless, most people still say waiter and waitress.

Feminists have also been trying to get people to stop saying actress, but even they feel such a need to designate the gender that most of the time they wind of saying “woman actor”, which to me is just like saying actress.

Hi Tere

All the talk about words and gender has been going on for a long time. But it’s not only gender that can get some people all riled up. There are all kinds of “politically correct” expressions and names for things. Some of them are accepted and take hold. Others don’t. And as Jamie mentioned, some “politically incorrect” words are just so ingrained, people simply continue to use them. (No matter what the “Politically Correct Faction” wants people to say. :lol:)

By the way, there’s been a little bit of discussion about this already:


And sometimes they get very ridiculous with it, for example the New York State Education Department wanted schools to stop using the term “cancer patient” and start using “patient with cancer”, which is the same thing but sounds more politically correct to someone for some reason. A lot of school systems and government agencies engage in this type of craziness.

Here is an article about that kind of thing:

Part of what spreads this nonsense around the country is textbook publishers who are trying to please the authorities in various states. In states like Michigan, local school districts decide which textbooks to use, but in states like Texas and California, a central committee decides which textbooks will be used by every school in the state. This means that the textbook publishers pander to every little whim of these committees, and the schools in the rest of the states have to suffer with the idiocy, to one extent or another.

My favorite restrictions are the ones that try to prevent children from being exposed to “stereotypes”. When the publishers have to worry about those, they’re afraid to show pictures of Asians studying, Latinos spending time with their families, elderly people getting sick, etc., because those are “stereotypes”.

That article was good! At first, I couldn’t believe it was serious and thought it had to be something from The Onion again! Restrictions are being taken too far and some are ridiculous, indeed. How about ‘man’, which seems to be singled out for extinction? Bob Dylan’s grossly distorted line is simply too much: [color=darkblue]“How many roads must an individual walk down before you can call them an adult." :lol: Just hilarious!

Some of the supposedly ‘improved’ terms sound awful (at least they do to me), like ‘older adult’ (instead of ‘elderly’), for example. On the other hand, I totally agree with replacing ‘illegal alien’ (!) by ‘undocumented worker’.

Diane Ravitch’s conclusion is especially interesting:


They almost always sound like a government bureaucrat wrote them.

If a person is not a citizen of the country he’s living in, he’s an alien. If he is not there legally, he is illegal. I don’t see why you don’t like the term “illegal alien”. What if the worker has documents but they are phony? Should we call him a “falsely documented worker”? And what if the foreigner doesn’t work?

What I think is funny is the way the politically correct terms go around in a circle. When my father was a boy, it was polite to call people of African descent “colored”. Then it was decided that “colored” was derogatory and that they should be called “negros”. Then it was decided they should be called “Negros”. When I was in high school, we were all asked to change to “black”. Now most black people still use the term “black”, but white school children are told to use the term “African American”. The trouble is that some blacks are not American, but people are afraid to call them “black”, “Negro”, “negro” or “colored”, so they don’t know what else to say.

One time a young woman complained about her father using the term “colored people” as a racial designation, claiming it was racist. A little while later, she was talking about “people of color”, and I bawled her out for calling them colored people. She was VERY angry and insisted she had NOT called them “colored people” but “people of color”. I told her it meant the same thing, so both terms had to be racist. She insisted they were NOT the same thing! So today, it is politically incorrect in America to say “colored people”, but it’s politically correct to say “people of color”.

This is only a personal (language or interpretation) thing. ‘Illegal’ is OK, I guess. It’s just that I always associate the term ‘aliens’ with extraterrestrial beings!

We have the same term in Spanish and it doesn’t sound right, somehow. Apart from the fact that all human beings are people of colour, whether black, brown, pink, red, yellow, etc. Oh, I’ve just realized that the term skin-coloured could also be politically incorrect. Theoretically, skin-coloured could be any of the above mentioned colours!

That’s a latterday definition of the word that’s been introduced in science fiction. Foreign residents were called aliens here long before movies were filled with aliens from space.

I understand Conchita?s point. When you have always seen the word in the same context and it has become ?popular?in that way (I mean, well-known by everybody to the extent of using it even when talking in Spanish -or the speaker?s mother tongue), it is difficult not to associate it with that meaning.
I imagine it must happen with other words to and in all languages.

Thanks so much to both for your very interesting posts!