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Posted by Marian on April 21, 2002

In Reply to: Doctorette posted by ESC on April 20, 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 ? 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."

: : : A latch-key -- that prized possession and mark of identity of the American bachelor girl. (_Tid-Bits_, September 8, 1899)

: : Some friends in medical school used to use "doctorette" to refer to females studying to be doctors. It was understood to be a joke by all concerned, essentially a mocking reference to the occasionally encountered sentiment that women couldn't/shouldn't take on such male-dominated professions.

: Our family doctor was a woman. This was during the 50s so it was kind of unusual. My parents must have thought a lot of her because I was named after her. Anyway, I remember her being upset during one office visit. My mother asked what was wrong. Dr. Teter said she was sick of people calling her "Miz" Teter instead of Dr. I guess she was having a bad day.
I know how she felt. I managed a vitamin store years ago. Early on I realized that people relied, a lot, on whatever I had to say regarding the products we sold, so I tried to study up on human nutrition whenever I could so that I could answer people's questions with a measure of authority. One woman who came in frequently insisted on calling me "Honey." It didn't bother me at first--after all, I had no other real title other than 'manager'--but eventually it began to really bug me. It just felt patronizing. I finally asked her to please just call me by name. She stopped coming in to the store, unfortunately. Today I have a somewhat larger understanding of the kind of cultural differences that can lead to such minor clashes, but I still think it's important to take stands like this, perhaps more diplomatically than I did then. I think everyone wins that way.

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