Tuesday, 13 January 2004

Actors and actresses

We use author and poet rather than authoress and poetess, but until fairly recently it was permissible to distinguish persons who act by gender. Now, it seems, not, and style guides tell journalists to stick with actor.

There is tradition of women who appear on the stage being known as actors. From Pepys’ Diary, 27 Dec 1666: “Doll Common doing Abigail most excellently, & Knipp the widow very well, & will be an excellent actor, I think".

But Fowler (1926) has three columns of typically elegant and thoughtful prose on Feminine Designations and includes actress in a list of established feminine titles. The 1968 Burchfield revision rambles a bit and ends "...The whole question of gender distinctions...is sensitive, verging on explosive. All possible 'solutions' introduce uglinesses or new inconsistencies or leave false expectations in their wake. Ours is an uneasy age linguistically". This is unhelpful.

Perhaps there are some ageing female actresses who like to be so called (though apparently not Judi Dench or Diana Rigg) but younger ones generally don’t. Let my thespian (thespienne?) daughter-in-law, who has been in everything from The Oresteia to The Bill but is still young, have the last word: She says actress has acquired a faintly pejorative tinge, and wants people to call her actor, except for her agent, who should call her often.

No comments: