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A friend of mine recently used the word masseuse to describe a person that gives massages. I have never heard of this terminology before so I'm wondering what the difference is between massager and masseuse?

To me, the -er ending makes it very obvious that it denotes "[a] person or thing that does an action indicated by the root verb; a person whose occupation is (the noun)." For instance:

  • player: a person who plays
  • driver: a person who drives
  • songwriter: a person who writes songs

I realize sometimes there is a distinction between male and female actors (e.g. actor/actress). Other words that have different endings to indicate the person:

  • assistant: a person who assists
  • scientist: a person who practices science

Now with the last example, the -ist suffix denotes profession or religion, so in my case, massage therapist would also work. But what's with the word masseuse?

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    Populist, plagiarist, descriptivist (though that could be considered a religion by some and a profession by others), recidivist, racist, agonist, deuteragonist, protagonist, Eucharist, somnambulist... – terdon Mar 21 '14 at 2:12
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A masseuse is a female person who gives massages (the male is masseur). The origin of the term is French.

Massage therapist usually implies that the person has undergone some special training in the use of massage to alleviate medical conditions. They are typically licensed or certified in some manner:

How long does it take to become a Massage Therapist? In the U.S, legal minimum hours for obtaining a massage therapy license differ from state to state and range from 330 to 1,000 hours. [CareerExplorer]

A massager is a device that massages.

If you google massager you'll likely find a bunch of objects that vibrate or have knobs on them for being rubbed upon people's bodies.

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The suffix -er just implies that it is a noun that performs a certain function. It does not imply that it is a person's profession. For example, an aircraft carrier.

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    There's a similar distinction between a cook (person) and a cooker (device). – Bradd Szonye Mar 27 '14 at 4:45
  • @BraddSzonye Absolutely! – David M Mar 27 '14 at 4:45
  • Maybe also mention that the French -eur and the English -er are basically the same suffix. – tripleee Oct 27 at 5:54
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The terms masseuse/masseur are titles used earlier when the industry was just beginning. The term today and the one that massage therapist prefer is (massage therapist) and not masseuse/masseur. When applying for licensing in the field, a school or licensing board will not and do not use these terms, masseuse/masseur. Most literature that refers to the field of massage therapy always uses the term massage therapist.

The term can also be viewed negatively by a massage therapist because they are terms used by an establishment that are seedy and questionable. An establishment that has build a reputation offering more than just a massage.

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I already heard the term "massagist" to refer to a masseur or masseuse.

E.g. ...of a massagist (masseur or masseuse) as herein defined... [Yucca Valley]


No person licensed as a masseur, masseuse, or massagist, shall massage or treat. [Naco]


It shall be a violation of this section for any person that doesn't hold a curremt license as a massage therapist to advertise therapy services by using the terms "massage", "massage therapist", "licensed massage therapist", "massage practitioner", "massagist", "masseur or masseuse"... [CGA]

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  • ...if it's important to you to avoid indicating gender. But somehow it sounds like someone who wants to do massage but has no training or experience. Or if someone reads it carelessly, it might sound like another word. – Stew Mar 21 '14 at 4:19
  • Nice! I hadn't heard that before. It sounds like someone whose religion is massage. :-) – David M Mar 21 '14 at 5:45
  • I don't even know how to reformat this answer. I just added the names of the sources, but it still needs to be formatted correctly. – Decapitated Soul Oct 22 at 12:44
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It's one of a pair of words of French origin: masseur, for a male; masseuse for a female.

Other examples are: chanteur, chanteuse for a singer; entrepreneur, entrepreneuse, for someone engaged in commercial enterprises (though the -euse form isn't in common usage with that example).

The problem is, those are gender-specific, which might explain the recent appearance of gender-neutral forms like massagist, or massager.

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Never call a professionally licensed massage therapist a masseuse. A masseuse is someone that sells sex for money and uses massage therapy as a cover. A real massage therapist obtains a professional license through an accredited massage therapy school or program.

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    Complete nonsense. Many professionals use masseuse/masseur, particularly if they are trying to distance themselves from the western medical culture. My next door neighbor advertises as a masseuse and has trained all over the world. She is about 75 and I'm pretty sure she isn't selling sex. – Phil Sweet Aug 17 '19 at 18:25

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