English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I recently came across the word scooterette in an Indian newspaper. I wondered if this is an Indian coinage; a quick search on Google showed me it's almost purely Indian. I could not find a reliable dictionary reference, but this article says these scooterettes are scooters manufactured specifically for women.

What is the reason this suffix "-ette" is used to refer to a female? Are there other nouns which become feminine by this addition? Or is this just some neologist's portmanteau of scooter and dudette?

share|improve this question
I know of at least one other noun: suffragette – Otavio Macedo May 9 '12 at 18:09
Adding -ette would not make a "scooter for women" as such -- a "scooterette" would be either a small scooter or a female scooter, if there could ever be one. – Kris May 9 '12 at 18:55
up vote 9 down vote accepted

The -ette suffix is normally applied to women, not objects designed specifically for women. Thus suffragette, your dudette, usherette and the like. The French language uses -ette to feminise names: Paul/Paulette, Claude/Claudette, etc., and the same principle is used to feminise some nouns in English to create a female variant.

By extension it can also mean "small", cigarette, novelette, Nissan's Vanette and so on. These aren't female, or specially for women.

It's not normally used to create a noun like scooterette meaning "a scooter for women", although perhaps it's simply a smaller scooter which happens to appeal to women (and not men, so it's ridden exclusively by women).

share|improve this answer
Your first sentence is confusing to me – after all, the suffix is applied to objects as well as women, isn't it? Luncheonette, diskette, towelette, launderette... Just curious; maybe I'm missing something? – J.R. May 9 '12 at 18:50
@J.R. I know what I meant: I'm not sure the edit makes it any better... – Andrew Leach May 9 '12 at 18:59
I see what you're getting at now – thanks for the explanation! – J.R. May 9 '12 at 19:02

There are also majorette and usherette, but -ette can be a diminutive suffix, used to produce words such as kitchenette and cigarette. It is also sometimes used to describe imitation material such as leatherette.

share|improve this answer

-ette is frequently used to indicate the fairer sex. As in bachelorette, suffragette, etc.

a noun suffix occurring originally in loanwords from French, where it has been used in a variety of diminutive and hypocoristic formations (brunette; cigarette; coquette; etiquette; rosette); as an English suffix, -ette forms diminutives (kitchenette; novelette; sermonette), distinctively feminine nouns (majorette; usherette), and names of imitation products (leatherette).

share|improve this answer
Or even farmerette... – J.R. May 9 '12 at 18:30

Mostly ditto Andrew Leach and Kevin.

Note that -ess is also used in English to make a word feminine, like prince/princess, actor/actress, waiter/waitress, etc.

As the right-wing traditionalist here, I am disappointed to have to add that the use of -ette and -ess to make words feminine is largely dying out. In some cases the male form is now being applied to both sexes, or a new word is chosen to apply to both. Like instead of saying "steward" or "stewardess" we're now supposed to say "flight attendant", etc.

-ette seems to be surviving in the sense of "smaller".

On a tangent, I was in an office supply store a while ago and they had a display of pens. On one side the sign said "Pens for Men" and on the other side "Pens for Women". I didn't have time to look, but I have wondered ever since what the difference would be. Of all the products that might have male and female versions, pens are not one that occurred to me.

share|improve this answer
Apparently Bic have launched pens "for her" to general amusement. Pink barrels mean blue ink; purple barrels mean black ink. The reviews on Amazon show what a vital innovation this is. – Henry Oct 20 '12 at 15:51

its generally female because of its etymology: From the French -ette, the feminine form of the diminutive suffix -et.

share|improve this answer

protected by tchrist Apr 9 '15 at 1:45

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.