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NOUNS > Abstract Nouns > Case Nouns > Collective Nouns > Common Nouns > Gender Nouns > Material Nouns > Number Nouns > Personification Nouns > Proper Nouns > Special Nouns > Special Uses > Word Groups

INFLECTIONS OF NOUNS.

GENDER.

What gender means in English. It is founded on sex.

21. In Latin, Greek, German, and many other languages, some general rules are given that names of male beings are usually masculine, and names of females are usually feminine. There are exceptions even to this general statement, but not so in English. Male beings are, in English grammar, always masculine; female, always feminine.

When, however, inanimate things are spoken of, these languages are totally unlike our own in determining the gender of words. For instance: in Latin, hortus (garden) is masculine, mensa (table) is feminine, corpus (body) is neuter; in German, das Messer (knife) is neuter, der Tisch (table) is masculine, die Gabel (fork) is feminine.

The great difference is, that in English the gender follows the meaning of the word, in other languages gender follows the form; that is, in English, gender depends on sex: if a thing spoken of is of the male sex, the name of it is masculine; if of the female sex, the name of it is feminine. Hence:

Definition.

22. Gender is the mode of distinguishing sex by words, or additions to words.

23. It is evident from this that English can have but two genders,—masculine and feminine.

Gender nouns. Neuter nouns.

All nouns, then, must be divided into two principal classes,—gender nouns, those distinguishing the sex of the object; and neuter nouns, those which do not distinguish sex, or names of things without life, and consequently without sex.

Gender nouns include names of persons and some names of animals; neuter nouns include some animals and all inanimate objects.

Some words either gender or neuter nouns, according to use.

24. Some words may be either gender nouns or neuter nouns, according to their use. Thus, the word child is neuter in the sentence, "A little child shall lead them," but is masculine in the sentence from Wordsworth,—

I have seen
A curious child ... applying to his ear
The convolutions of a smooth-lipped shell.

Of animals, those with which man comes in contact often, or which arouse his interest most, are named by gender nouns, as in these sentences:—

Before the barn door strutted the gallant cock, that pattern of a husband, ... clapping his burnished wings.—Irving.

Gunpowder ... came to a stand just by the bridge, with a suddenness that had nearly sent his rider sprawling over his head—Id.

Other animals are not distinguished as to sex, but are spoken of as neuter, the sex being of no consequence.

Not a turkey but he [Ichabod] beheld daintily trussed up, with its gizzard under its wing.—Irving.

He next stooped down to feel the pig, if there were any signs of life in it.—Lamb.

No "common gender."

25. According to the definition, there can be no such thing as "common gender:" words either distinguish sex (or the sex is distinguished by the context) or else they do not distinguish sex.

If such words as parent, servant, teacher, ruler, relative, cousin, domestic, etc., do not show the sex to which the persons belong, they are neuter words.

26. Put in convenient form, the division of words according to sex, or the lack of it, is,—

(MASCULINE: Male beings.
Gender nouns {
(FEMININE: Female beings.

Neuter nouns: Names of inanimate things, or of living beings whose sex cannot be determined.

27. The inflections for gender belong, of course, only to masculine and feminine nouns. Forms would be a more accurate word than inflections, since inflection applies only to the case of nouns.

There are three ways to distinguish the genders:—

(1) By prefixing a gender word to another word.

(2) By adding a suffix, generally to a masculine word.

(3) By using a different word for each gender.

I. Gender shown by Prefixes.

Very few of class I.

28. Usually the gender words he and she are prefixed to neuter words; as he-goatshe-goat, cock sparrowhen sparrow, he-bearshe-bear.

One feminine, woman, puts a prefix before the masculine man. Woman is a short way of writing wifeman.

II. Gender shown by Suffixes.

29. By far the largest number of gender words are those marked by suffixes. In this particular the native endings have been largely supplanted by foreign suffixes.

Native suffixes.

The native suffixes to indicate the feminine were -en and -ster. These remain in vixen and spinster, though both words have lost their original meanings.

The word vixen was once used as the feminine of fox by the Southern-English. For fox they said vox; for from they said vram; and for the older word fat they said vat, as in wine vat. Hence vixen is for fyxen, from the masculine fox.

Spinster is a relic of a large class of words that existed in Old and Middle English,[1] but have now lost their original force as feminines. The old masculine answering to spinster was spinner; but spinster has now no connection with it.

The foreign suffixes are of two kinds:—

Foreign suffixes. Unaltered and little used.

(1) Those belonging to borrowed words, as czarina, señorita, executrix, donna. These are attached to foreign words, and are never used for words recognized as English.

Slightly changed and widely used.

(2) That regarded as the standard or regular termination of the feminine, -ess (French esse, Low Latin issa), the one most used. The corresponding masculine may have the ending -er (-or), but in most cases it has not. Whenever we adopt a new masculine word, the feminine is formed by adding this termination -ess.

Sometimes the -ess has been added to a word already feminine by the ending -ster; as seam-str-ess, song-str-ess. The ending -ster had then lost its force as a feminine suffix; it has none now in the words huckster, gamester, trickster, punster.

Ending of masculine not changed.

30. The ending -ess is added to many words without changing the ending of the masculine; as,—

  • baron—baroness
  • count—countess
  • lion—lioness
  • Jew—Jewess
  • heir—heiress
  • host—hostess
  • priest—priestess
  • giant—giantess
Masculine ending dropped.

The masculine ending may be dropped before the feminine -ess is added; as,—

  • abbot—abbess
  • negro—negress
  • murderer—murderess
  • sorcerer—sorceress
Vowel dropped before adding -ess.

The feminine may discard a vowel which appears in the masculine; as in—

  • actor—actress
  • master—mistress
  • benefactor—benefactress
  • emperor—empress
  • tiger—tigress
  • enchanter—enchantress

Empress has been cut down from emperice (twelfth century) and emperesse (thirteenth century), from Latin imperatricem.

Master and mistress were in Middle English maistermaistresse, from the Old French maistremaistresse.

31. When the older -en and -ster went out of use as the distinctive mark of the feminine, the ending -ess, from the French -esse, sprang into a popularity much greater than at present.

Ending -ess less used now than formerly.

Instead of saying doctress, fosteress, wagoness, as was said in the sixteenth century, or servauntesse, teacheresse, neighboresse, frendesse, as in the fourteenth century, we have dispensed with the ending in many cases, and either use a prefix word or leave the masculine to do work for the feminine also.

Thus, we say doctor (masculine and feminine) or woman doctor, teacher or lady teacher, neighbor (masculine and feminine), etc. We frequently use such words as author, editor, chairman, to represent persons of either sex.

NOTE.—There is perhaps this distinction observed: when we speak of a female as an active agent merely, we use the masculine termination, as, "George Eliot is the author of 'Adam Bede;'" but when we speak purposely to denote a distinction from a male, we use the feminine, as, "George Eliot is an eminent authoress."

III. Gender shown by Different Words.

32. In some of these pairs, the feminine and the masculine are entirely different words; others have in their origin the same root. Some of them have an interesting history, and will be noted below:—

  • bachelor—maid
  • boy—girl
  • brother—sister
  • drake—duck
  • earl—countess
  • father—mother
  • gander—goose
  • hart—roe
  • horse—mare
  • husband—wife
  • king—queen
  • lord—lady
  • wizard—witch
  • nephew—niece
  • ram—ewe
  • sir—madam
  • son—daughter
  • uncle—aunt
  • bull—cow
  • boar—sow

Girl originally meant a child of either sex, and was used for male or female until about the fifteenth century.

Drake is peculiar in that it is formed from a corresponding feminine which is no longer used. It is not connected historically with our word duck, but is derived from ened (duck) and an obsolete suffix rake (king). Three letters of ened have fallen away, leaving our word drake.

Gander and goose were originally from the same root word. Goose has various cognate forms in the languages akin to English (German Gans, Icelandic gás, Danish gaas, etc.). The masculine was formed by adding -a, the old sign of the masculine. This gansa was modified into gan-ra, gand-ra, finally gander; the d being inserted to make pronunciation easy, as in many other words.

Mare, in Old English mere, had the masculine mearh (horse), but this has long been obsolete.

Husband and wife are not connected in origin. Husband is a Scandinavian word (Anglo-Saxon hūsbonda from Icelandic hús-bóndi, probably meaning house dweller); wife was used in Old and Middle English to mean woman in general.

King and queen are said by some (Skeat, among others) to be from the same root word, but the German etymologist Kluge says they are not.

Lord is said to be a worn-down form of the Old English hlāf-weard (loaf keeper), written loverd, lhauerd, or lauerd in Middle English. Lady is from hlœ̄̄fdige (hlœ̄̄f meaning loaf, and dige being of uncertain origin and meaning).

Witch is the Old English wicce, but wizard is from the Old French guiscart (prudent), not immediately connected with witch, though both are ultimately from the same root.

Sir is worn down from the Old French sire (Latin senior). Madam is the French ma dame, from Latin mea domina.

Two masculines from feminines.

33. Besides gander and drake, there are two other masculine words that were formed from the feminine:—

Bridegroom, from Old English brȳd-guma (bride's man). The r in groom has crept in from confusion with the word groom.

Widower, from the weakening of the ending -a in Old English to -e in Middle English. The older forms, widuwawiduwe, became identical, and a new masculine ending was therefore added to distinguish the masculine from the feminine (compare Middle English widuerwidewe).


NOUNS > Abstract Nouns > Case Nouns > Collective Nouns > Common Nouns > Gender Nouns > Material Nouns > Number Nouns > Personification Nouns > Proper Nouns > Special Nouns > Special Uses > Word Groups