Posted by R. Berg on April 17, 2002
In Reply to: Re: Bachelorette posted by ESC on April 17, 2002
: : : : Fortunately we don't have this word over here - to us they're stag parties or hen parties - but I just wondered how recent this coinage is? I can understand why it arose though - a "spinster party" might be a tad hard to market.
: : : Apparently, from your post, in the U.K. a bachelorette is a gathering rather than a person. The only meaning I know for "bachelorette" in the U.S. is a young, unmarried woman. "Bachelorette" has different connotations than "spinster": a bachelorette is attractive in looks, personality, or both, and she probably lives apart from her parents. She may well marry someday. A spinster is past the usual age for marriage; she may or may not have left home. "Bachelorette" is the kind of word that makes word people wince. I don't know how old it is, but it isn't in my American print dictionaries.
: : Forgive me - I was being overly elliptical in my original post and therefore confusing. I only know of this term through the phrase "bachelorette party", and so, inasmuch as the word is known over here, it is also taken to be a connotation-free version of "spinster". It interests me precisely for that reason - although I think the word itself is wince-making, given the "left on the shelf" implications of spinster, one can easily see why there was a gap in the market for an utterly unpejorative word meaning "unmarried woman". I simply wonder roughly when that gap was filled.
: Bachelor originated "probably before 1300 'bacheler': a young man, a squire, a young unmarried man; later a young knight (before 1376), a university graduate or a junior member of a guild . The word is borrowed from Old French 'bacheler,' 'bachelier,' from Medieval Latin 'baccalaris,' probably a variant of 'baccalarius' helper or tenant on a 'baccalaria,' section of land; later 'baccalarious' also had the meaning 'junior member of a guild, university student,' the latter meaning seen in the pun on 'baccalaureus' under 'baccalaureate.'" From the "Barnhart Concise Dictionary of Etymology" by Robert K. Barnhart (HarperCollins Publishers, New York, 1995).
: "Bachelorette" was among several words created "when World War I really gave the -ette ending a start in the United States," according to "The American Language: An Inquiry into the Development of English in the United States" by H.L. Mencken (Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1963, Fourth Edition and two supplements, abridged, with annotations and new material by Raven I McDavid Jr.)
: The first time I remember hearing "bachelorette" was on the U.S. TV show (1960s??) The Dating Game.
"Bachelorette" isn't free of connotations -- it just has different ones than "spinster." Webster's Second, 1934, has "bachelor girl." That seems a slight improvement over "bachelorette." Because "-ette" is a diminutive suffix, as in "kitchenette," "bachelorette" strikes me as condescending. "-Ette" things are small and perhaps also cute. When those earlier Americans felt a need for a feminine form of "bachelor," I wish they had coined "bachelin" or "bachela" or something else, even "bacheless."