Pardon the Wait

Pardon the Wait.gif

She wants to be called “waiter” because she doesn’t like “waitress?” Or “Amy”?

Or is the joke that this is the opposite of what a waitress might say, which still doesn’t explain “waiter”?

Related to the fact she’s wearing a tie?

Clearly I got nothing.

But while we’re on the topic…

A couple of weeks ago, while going through a photo album/scrapbook nobody had seen in decades,  I came across a 1970 newspaper ad mentioning an appearance by an authoress.

How quaint.

I mentioned this to two of my cousins. One of them, a male, basically said “that’s what they’re called, isn’t it?” Well, not really since Jane Austen.

The other cousin, who is an authoress, said she’d never been called that in her life, but… she didn’t think she’d be offended or anything. Probably.

And that got me thinking about the trend lately to refer to actresses as actors. Which is all very well, but what happens when you have to give out awards? “This year’s Oscar for Best Actor With XX Chromosomes goes to…”

And that got me thinking… how many words with the -ess suffix are still in common use? Stewardesses are flight attendants now. Waitresses… I guess we’ll have to call them “Amy” until a good word for a member of the waitstaff gains acceptance.

“Seductress” remains on the board, because it’s an inherently gender-specific job (likewise “temptress,” but how often do we really hear either?)

I suppose 50 years from now “wife” and “widow” might fall by the wayside, but for right now… how many words with the -ess suffix are still in common use?


  1. No one ever remembers the waitress’ or waiter’s name. Amy has accepted this, but still gives her name since it is part of the expected spiel.

  2. My wife actually does remember their names. Me, once somebody is out of my field of vision, they’re erased from my memory.

    Me: Is that our waiter over there?
    My Wife: He’s white. Our waitress is black. You were speaking with her three minutes ago.

    I should point out that this has nothing to do with them being servers: I m really just that bad with names and faces.

    (Oh, “server”: that’s the word that’s replacing “waiter” and “waitress.”)

  3. Hey, you got me thinking that if a female seducer is a seductress, is a female producer a “productress”? I learned that the answer is “yes”,.. and that “productress” is such an old word that it’s now referred to as “archaic”.

    I just thought of “songstress”; I think “songstress” is going to stay in common usage. ..because “songstress” and “singer” don’t feel the same to me.

  4. “how many words with the -ess suffix are still in common use?”

    Duchess, princess, empress, and probably more royal women. Goddess, hostess?, huntress?, mistress, governess (what’s the male equivalent? – not governor), sorceress, seamstress.

  5. I think it’s a lettering error. It’s supposed to be “Walter”. It’s a commentary on gender identity. Really.

  6. “governess (what’s the male equivalent? – not governor)”

    Tutor? That applies to both genders though and is much more common. I think the term governess isn’t used that frequently these days.

    Regarding ‘server’ for waiter/waitress, I find it sounds a bit more demeaning. “Server! Bring me more dipping sauce! Chop, chop!” I know the former’s entomology of being “someone waiting at tables” for you to bark your commands, but I don’t know. To my ears, waiter/waitress sounds less harsh.

  7. Wait, wait. Before anyone has a go, I appreciate that ‘Waiter! Bring me more dipping sauce! Chop, chop!” would also be demeaning, but I think the word ‘server’ would be adding more insult…if you see what I mean.

  8. B.A., I’ll give you huntress, but a fair number of seamstress jobs and salaries show up in a web search.

  9. At one point my brother worked for a restaurant that used “waitron” as a gender-neutral term for waiters and waitresses. I think it came from the internal ordering & billing system; the term was only used jokingly among staff (with a derisive tenor towards idiotic bureaucracy), nobody ever introduced themselves to customers that way.

  10. I use waitron in conversation, but would never use the term at a restaurant. I’m also fond of congresscritter.

  11. “Hmm… Is there a term for a male nanny (nanny being a near synonym for governess)?”

    They used the term ‘manny’ in Modern Family.

  12. ‘And that got me thinking about the trend lately to refer to actresses as actors. Which is all very well, but what happens when you have to give out awards? “This year’s Oscar for Best Actor With XX Chromosomes goes to…”’

    Maybe that should be the true egalitarian goal…not to have a distinction. The candidates for the Best Actor award should include both males and females. I’d be for this as, at the very least, it would reduce the amount of time this insipid, self-aggrandizing twaddle was on the air.

  13. Waitron goes back to at least the mid-90s. It was mentioned in a parody of “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” by Neal Diamond and Barbra Streisand called “You Can’t Bring Me Flowers”. I can’t find a video of it. It was done by the Capitol Steps, but they don’t have it on their YouTube channel or their website. The lyrics are here:

    I think -ess words (and the rarer -rix) are dying out. Even the words others have mentioned are fading, except for the titles of nobility. Even actress is being marginalized outside of awards. Frankly, I don’t have a problem with that. The suffix implies there’s a difference solely due to gender.

  14. Manageress used to be quite common, at least in the UK, but not so much now. As opposed to the still fairly common actor and actress pattern, I had imagined no-one had ever called female doctors “doctresses” but apparently they did once, but the usage is now archaic/obsolete.

    Poetess also used to be used for female poets.

    In the UK again, male nurses were called “male nurses” but I think generally now they are simply nurses. It could have been, but never was, Nurs and Nursess.

    As for the original cartoon, I wonder if being called “waiter” rather than by her name gives the server a certain privacy. She might, by company rules, have to tell people her first name, but in fact would prefer not to and instead maintain a professional distance. As customers we aren’t expected to give out personal information like our names, are we.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if in some organisations the names on staff name-tags are essentially pseudonyms, so that in case of complaint the management can identify specific staff-members but the public does not know what their true names are.

  15. @ DemetriosX – Gender specific terms may be dying out in English, but they are cemented in the language in German. Even Angela Merkel is officially called “Chancelloress” (“Kanzlerin“). There is a movement to introduce “gender neutral” terms (especially for plurals), but the academic idiots and politicians tend to favor artificial solutions that make the problem even worse, effectively attaching both endings onto the word (using a slash, asterisk, or CamelCaps, all of which look ugly and are unpronounceable).
    P.S. I didn’t say the term “waitron” was recent. My brother hasn’t waited tables since he graduated from college, and since he’s close to my age, that was a long time ago. 😉

  16. Midwife is another job title that sounds gender specific but isn’t … midhusband doesn’t work at all to my ears.

  17. Is a male seamstress a seamer? Also, the lowest enlisted rank in the US Navy is Seaman, regardless of gender.

  18. My hope is that lion and lioness continue to used. Although egret and egress just doesn’t seem right in some way :^)

  19. When you think about it, why ARE there two separate awards for male and female actors?

    When I was a kid, the Help Wanted section in the newspaper had separate sections for male and female. That now seems to make no sense at all.

    “Comedienne” is also gone. Maybe “waitress” IS disappearing, since the waiter and the waitress do the exact same thing.

  20. I haven’t been to one of those Medieval Times places in maybe 20 years, but at that time they still told customers to use “wench” to address a waitress. Anyone know if that’s still the case?

  21. “Waitron” sounds like what we will all be served by in the coming robot revolution…

    "Greetings! I will be your waitron this evening! You may call me 'Bob'!"

    Don’t forget to tip your waitron….

  22. @narmitaj: “I wouldn’t be surprised if in some organisations the names on staff name-tags are essentially pseudonyms,”

    Volunteers at one local public library used to do that regularly for the booksales, appropriating names of famous authors. I don’t know if they did it because they found it cute (as I did, mildly) or if there was really some worry about some nut trying to identify them. I think they did it for only three or four years and that was over a decade ago, but I’m not sure (can’t even recall which branch it was) and I hadn’t thought about in at least that long until your post just now.

  23. While we are on the “ess” topic, how about the related “ix?” When was the last time you saw aviatrix or executrix?

  24. @beckoningchasm: “As for huntress, there’s a DC comics character by that name.”

    There have been several DC characters of that name, the first going back to the 1940s, so perhaps the not-so–woke form of the name was grandfathered, er, grandmothered? in.

  25. @Arthur: “Hmm… Is there a term for a male nanny (nanny being a near synonym for governess)?”

    Zonker Harris in the DOONESBURY strip was that (for B.D. and Boopsie’s daughter when she was a young child), and as I recall he commonly referred to himself just as a “nanny.” Of course, he was and is eccentric enough in many ways to not count as good evidence for common use.

  26. @narmitaj: “Poetess also used to be used for female poets.”

    I see it a lot in older books, but I think I’ve still seen it used sometimes in contemporary times. My wife, who is a published poet (admittedly an obscure one…) finds it very irritating, as did others in her writer/performance group, so they ironically named themselves The Lady Poetesses from Hell.

  27. It’s interesting that the same egalitarian dynamic that’s causing gender-specific professional titles to decline in English is causing them to increase in French. New feminine forms (“la professeure”) are rapidly appearing and are considered a big step forward from the standard form, where the masculine noun may be preceded by “madame.”

  28. A lot of customer service personnel, especially where agitated complaints are common, use pseudonyms or at least only first names as a deliberate tactic to both have your cake and eat it too. The giving of a name makes it seem like you are getting personal, individual service from a real live human being, but at the same time if you wish to escalate and directly hold the person you are dealing with to account, you often cannot get a uniquely identifying identifier from them: “OK, ‘Steve’, I want to talk to your supervisor, what is your full name? OK, you can’t tell me for privacy reasons, so then what is your id number? You don’t have one? I find that hard to believe… OK, Mr. Supervisor, I wish to complain about ‘Steve’… what do you mean you have no ‘Steve’ under your supervision?! Oh, now you have multiple ‘Steve’s under your supervision? In fact, every customer service agent under you is called ‘Steve’? How convenient…”

  29. I’m late to the party, but I’ll take a stab at explaining it.

    Amy has resigned herself to the fact that, no matter what qualities she has or exhibits, the people in the restaurant will depersonalize her and call her “waiter”… even if they’ve been told her name.

  30. ” When was the last time you saw aviatrix or executrix?”

    You’re turning over the wrong stones. Dominatrix is still common among people who have interests along those lines.

  31. ” the lowest enlisted rank in the US Navy is Seaman, regardless of gender.”

    The lowest rank in the AF is “Airman Basic”. You have to work your way up to “Airman” (then Airman first class, and then Senior Airman) Getting promoted from Senior Airman to Sergeant doesn’t move you up a pay class, they’re both E-4.

  32. ” Dominatrix is still common among people who have interests along those lines.” It’s nowhere near my scene, but I have osmotically gotten the impression that domme is becoming the preferred term. And on the model of aviatrix and executrix, shouldn’t it have been authrix rather than authoress?

    The Rowan Atkinson show “The Thin Blue Line” frequently featured the mayoress of their town.

  33. The word “executor” itself is becoming less common as far as wills go. The more typical term these days is “personal representative”. Often abbreviated to “per rep”.

  34. Is a male seamstress a seamer?

    It’s an English word. The dictionaries I consulted don’t indicate that it is exclusively male.

  35. CIDU Bill: Tailor

    I tend to think of that occupation as a more involved one including alterations and even creation of bespoke garments. I also don’t think of it as a male-only word.

  36. Brian in STL: Fair enough on the first point, but on the second, I think very few words can be considered “male-only” words. Most of the male words discussed – “Hunter,” “waiter, “actor,” “aviator,” “executor” – they can be used to refer to males specifically, or the profession in general. (The default human gender being traditionally male.)

Add a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.