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“Trainer” is to “trainee” as “mentor” is to what?

My employer has instituted a formal mentoring program for new employees. I was horrified (but should not have been surprised) to read the company information that referred to the new employees as "mentees" in the mentoring relationship. Apparently the word has been in use since the 1960's (I don't know where it was first used). Is this word really considered correct English?

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marked as duplicate by choster, Gnawme, Matt Эллен, Jasper Loy, Andrew Leach Jun 7 '12 at 9:36

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I personally don't consider it "correct English".

Mentor is originated from the Greek word Méntōr, the name of the son of Anchialus and Asopis.

He was placed by his friend, Odysseus, the king of Ithaca, together with Eumaeus, to take charge of Odysseus' son Telemachus and Odysseus' palace, when Odysseus left for the Trojan War.

The Trojan war lasted 10 years and it took Odysseus another 10years to return home.

While Trojan had gone for pretty long, many people started to believe he's dead and consider Odysseus's wife, Penelope, a widow.

So the 108 suitors of Penelope courted Penelope everyday.

In order to encourage Telemachus to stand up against the suitors, Pallas Athena, the goddess of wisdom, took disguise of Mentor (so she won't be recognized by the suiters), gave Telemachus advice and told him to find out what happened to his father.

Because of Méntōr(and Athene who took disguise of Mentor)'s relationship with Telemachus, Méntōr has been adopted in English as a term meaning someone who imparts wisdom to and shares knowledge with a less experienced colleague.

Therefore, personally I don't find the back-formation of turning mentor into mentee make much sense.

Unlike trainer, employer, abductor, examiner , the term mentor is not simply formed from a verb and therefore it is quite bizarre to create a new word from it by replacing the seeming suffix "or".

I would prefer to use the word apprentice or protégé/protégée instead.


Now back to the question:

Is this word really considered correct English?

It is up to your definition of correct English.

To me, "mentee" is definitely not correct English.

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The OED gives the 1965 citation from The American Economic Review:

A person who has a mentor; the person guided or tutored by a mentor.

1965 Amer. Econ. Rev. 55 862 What is the typical economics class but a contact between the conservative teacher and his mentees?

The terms protégé or apprentice are probably more common, but mentee gets the idea across well enough to me that I wouldn't consider it incorrect, especially considering that the OED and MW dictionaries have entries for it.

EDIT: Mentee is also not marked as rare or obsolete in these references, which is another (not perfect, but good) indicator that it is a usable word. In fact, the most recent citation is from 2001:

2001 Fast Company (Electronic ed.) 1 Jan. 58 Although Garrison doesn't think that mentors need to be best friends with their mentees, he does think that both partners should feel simpatico on some level.

…which is quite recent by OED standards. Furthermore, even if it did not appear in a dictionary, it could be usable as a nonce term. This happens often when the morphology or composition of a word makes its meaning clear. Mentee definitely qualifies, since it looks like the complement of mentor in an -or[er]/-ee suffixed pair. Nonce terms frequently enter the language (see affluenza and securitization), even if they are back-formed (see resurrection and burgle), like mentee is.

I'll include an nGram here of mentee against protege (accents removed to better fit with Google's OCR/ReCAPTCA results), since it seems to reflect a recent upsurge in the usage of mentee (though the usual caveats about nGrams should be taken into account). Even though the latest data points reflect a ~7:1 preference of protege to mentee, the latter still enjoys 53,000 printed book search results, most of which are from the last 3 years of the data sample (1997-2000).

nGram of mentee vs protege

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What if I argue that those august works simply record how a word has been used in order that they can be referred to to find out what on earth is meant by a particular sentence? Including any word under those circumstances doesn't make it correct, merely explained. –  Andrew Leach Jun 7 '12 at 6:33

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