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I know the female version of proprietor can be called as proprietress or proprietrix.

But I want to know whether a female proprietor can also be called a proprietor? Or does proprietor only indicate a male business person?

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I took the liberty of adding the Indian-English tag, as the question seems to be related strongly to that. – oerkelens Feb 27 '14 at 14:31
@oerkelens I don't see how the question is strongly related (or at all related) to Indian-English. Can you point out why? – Doc Feb 27 '14 at 22:08
possible duplicate of Masculine/feminine nouns in English – Lego Stormtroopr Feb 28 '14 at 5:57
@Doc: because the idea of gender-equality in India is slightly different from that in the UK, US or other major English-speaking nations. So any well-meant advice that is relevant to the US or the UK might be missing the point completely for the setting and environment in which this question is asked. – oerkelens Feb 28 '14 at 9:28
@LegoStormtroopr : That question was closed due to off topic. – logan Feb 28 '14 at 13:15
up vote 18 down vote accepted

Most people will have no problem with calling her proprietor.

Actually some people will reject the idea that you need a female form of the word anyway. Why would the word proprietor only be applicable to a man, and not simply to a person?

So actually, calling her a proprietor is the safer and better option. Don't use an -ess or -ix version.

Legally it might even be a problem. What is a proprietor of a company is a party in a contract, and the company is sold to a proprietor of the opposite sex. Does that mean all contracts in which the proprietor was a party are null and void until the sex has changed?

A quick check seems to confirm we are talking about India. I know that there are accounts (and possibly other services) that are available to one sex only. If this is such a case, it might be appropriate to explicitly indicate the sex of the proprietor. While many people (including me) will balk at the sexist implications of this, it is always wise to pick your battles. And when you need the services the bank can offer you, it might not be a battle worth the fight...

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Today, I went to the bank; when the for seal is stamped on some papers they said, female should be proprietrix ; And bank person asked to change the seal .Shall i proceed to change or not ? – logan Feb 27 '14 at 13:50
Whilst all my life I have used the terms waitress and actress, I don't ever remember referring to a proprietress, or less likely still a proprietrix! (My spell checker wrenches in disgust at the last one!) – WS2 Feb 27 '14 at 13:59
@WS2: google results the meaning for proprietress – logan Feb 27 '14 at 14:09
Well, it depends on the rules of the bank. If the bank has rules that state that the sex of the owner is relevant to them, they may have a point (whether it is a relevant point or not). Personally I would look for an option to give my business to a competing institution less medieval views, but I appreciate not everybody is in a position where that is an option. – oerkelens Feb 27 '14 at 14:26
Oh no :) My own opinion is that a sex-based distinction is completely absurd, and in most of the largest English-speaking countries, the users of that language agree with me. However, in the specific case of India, were sex-equality is regarded, let's say, differently, I think a pragmatic approach and possibly a principal-breaching adaptation of language should not be regarded as grammatically wrong. – oerkelens Feb 27 '14 at 14:43

In recent years there has been a push back on this concept of the -or suffix.

For years, female actors were called actresses. And, then the term began to fall out of favor with many female participants in the performing arts preferring actor or female actor. Here is a nice article on the subject..

In the case of actor/actress the word actress may have carried some implications about the woman's morality, suitability for society, etc. (And, I think proprietress may have had some similar connotations of being a Madam in a brothel.)

But, in general, I believe the focus of the past decades has been equality. [I am trying to avoid banal descriptions like the "Women's Liberation Movement" here.] And, for many people, if two people are performing the same function there is no reason to delineate the sex of the person in the name of the occupation.

So, I would say, your bank manager's sense of propriety aside, feel free to use either to describe yourself.

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As @David points out, there's still scope for flexibility with "unisex" use of some terms (actor being a prime case in point). But it's not really even an issue with proprietor...

Click on the chart itself to see that I really did include "she is the proprietress" as a search string - it just doesn't occur often enough to graph. The Google Books "guesstimate" for she is the proprietor is 48,400. With ...proprietress it's 3,880, and ...proprietrix occurs just 8 times . Most of the latter two are from sources decades if not centuries old. They're not used much at all today.

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great result ! How google is having 1800's data ? – logan Feb 27 '14 at 15:18
@logan: in those good old days, texts were often printed on "paper". Google has scanned a lot of pages of that stuff to feed it into their database. Don't worry, they are not referring to 19th-century weblogs :) – oerkelens Feb 27 '14 at 15:29
@oerkelens: I know you're being "facetious" by using scare quotes there. But at the rate things are going, long before you're pushing up the daisies, paper will buried alongside papyrus. Which I'm not old enough to remember - but I did have a slide-rule when I was younger, and I haven't seen one of those in decades. Things change faster all the time, so maybe Google will invent timetravel (will?, did? - what does the tense mean in such a context? :), in which case 19th-century weblogs may be a thing of the future (as well as a thing of the past! :) – FumbleFingers Feb 27 '14 at 15:48
Here's a trick to get "proprietress" into the graph: Don't limit the results to start with "she is the." Instead, include the pair "headmaster"/"headmistress" to get an idea of how much imbalance is due to the gender bias of having an elevated socioeconomic position: Google Ngram Viewer – pyramids Feb 27 '14 at 16:21
@pyramids: Why would I want to find ways of maximising reported hits for gender-specific usages? The plain fact is the vast majority of Anglophones today are more than willing to abandon such dated terminology in practically all contexts. See schoolmaster vs schoolteacher. – FumbleFingers Feb 27 '14 at 17:18

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