Heard on The Judges: "bartend(e)ress"

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Wed Jan 28 15:19:28 UTC 2009

At 12:16 PM +0000 1/28/09, Damien Hall wrote:
>James said:
>'This past weekend the Screen Actors' Guild gave out its awards, including
>"Best Female Actor", so we have to assume it is now official.'
>For them, perhaps, but I note that both the Oscars:
>and the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA):
>use 'actress' (their categories for female actors in leading roles are
>called '(Best) Actress in a Leading Role' and '(Best) Leading Actress'
>I was going to post about this before and say that the BrE tendency was
>still to refer to female actors as actresses, but my research was
>overshadowed by Mark's excellent figures on it, and, anyway, when I did
>Google searches on 'I am / She is an actor / actress' restricting the
>search to <... .uk> sites, the figures didn't bear me out.
>I replicated Ron's previous searches, but with my restricted searches, and
>these were the results:
>I am an actress    52,400
>She is an actress  93,000
>I am an actor      93,000
>She is an actor    10,800
>Ratio of 'She is an actress' to 'She is an actor'
>= 93,000 / 10,800
>= 1:8.61
>DAMIEN (search restricted to .uk sites)
>I am an actress    444
>She is an actress  1,860
>I am an actor      871
>She is an actor    354
>Ratio of 'She is an actress' to 'She is an actor'
>= 1,860 / 354
>= 1:5.25
>The usual caveats about ghits apply, of course, with the added one that you
>don't know who is posting to any site, not even ones based in the UK (the
>assumption of the search is that by restricting it to .uk sites I will get
>at least a greater proportion of hits from the UK).
>Anyway, these results were surprising to me: if it had really been true
>that UK-based people use 'actress' more than 'female actor', you would have
>expected the UK ratio of 'She is an actress' to 'She is an actor' to be
>higher than the general, non-restricted search one. I presume that the
>conclusion to draw from that is that BrE is also taking in (what I think
>is) the incoming variant, 'female actor'; on the other hand, what I think
>is considered the main British film and TV award organisation still uses
>'actress', as do the Oscars themselves. But it's clearly a situation in
>flux; the whole Royal Academy of Dramatic Art site
>contains only 7 mentions of the word 'actress', and they refer to members
>of the acting profession collectively as 'actors' (not 'actors and
That last point is significant, since it bears on the general
considerations of markedness (or privative opposition) and just how
innocent the opposition is or isn't.  Indeed, the fact that in the
U.S. too it's "Actors' Equity" ("the labor union representing actors
and stage managers...") and "Actors' Playhouse" and "Screen Actors
Guild" and so on, in each case including female as well as male
clients and performers without mentioning actresses directly, that
helps convince many women who act, whether or not they call
themselves actors or actresses, that it's not simply a matter of
ACTOR [+male]/ACTRESS [+female].


The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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