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Often I come across the term "female author" rather than "authoress". Which is the correct usage? "Female author" sounds wrong to me as other words that end in "-or" take a sex.

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    It's grammatical gender. Sorry, no link for grammatical sex, because I don't want this comment to get flagged.
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented Apr 28, 2011 at 21:47
  • i too take it as old fashioned usage....there has been a lot of modifications made in the use of some words...
    – user22542
    Commented Jun 19, 2012 at 2:33
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    Just say "author". Unless it is important to know the gender of the author, then say "female author" or "male author".
    – GEdgar
    Commented Jun 19, 2012 at 3:01
  • You know, in your question, "feminine author" doesn't have to be female. I'm just saying. :) Commented Sep 11, 2013 at 2:52
  • And as for "authoress," I see no point. But if you had a need to specify that the author of something was a woman, and you had a legitimate need to do it in immediate association with the term author, there would be nothing wrong with "female author." Commented Sep 11, 2013 at 2:53

3 Answers 3

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The term exists but it's considered "old-fashioned, sexist and patronising", as it says in my dictionary (NOAD):

-ess: suffix. Forming nouns denoting female gender.

  • ORIGIN from French -esse, via late Latin from Greek -issa.
  • USAGE The suffix -ess has been used since the Middle Ages to form nouns denoting female persons, using a neutral or a male form as the base. [...] In the late 20th century, as the role of women in society changed, some of these feminine forms became problematic and are now regarded as old-fashioned, sexist, and patronizing (e.g., poetess, authoress, editress). The ‘male’ form is increasingly being used as the ‘neutral’ form, where the gender of the person concerned is simply unspecified.

If you want a further reference also the OALD says the same thing.

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    There is also a counter movement, which condemns the easy condemnation of perceived sexisms and keeps using them. Commented Apr 28, 2011 at 22:06
  • There's also a movement supporting using a single, specific noun instead of an adjective+noun. Most of the people in it don't realise it's a movement, though.
    – kitukwfyer
    Commented Apr 28, 2011 at 22:15
  • @RegDwight: I can't link it because it's the one built-in, but I've made a research and it uses the New Oxford American Dictionary. Is it ok or should I put a real link?
    – Alenanno
    Commented Apr 28, 2011 at 22:25
  • Thanks a bunch, I think it's okay without a link (all I was saying was that the quote shouldn't be left completely unattributed).
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented Apr 28, 2011 at 22:29
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    I use the term "authoress"- being a woman is a wonderful thing, why neuter them if the gender is known? The entries stating that the term is sexist, patronizing, etc., are using a tactic were just by saying that this is the case, people start perceiving it that way. I've never had an issue with it throughout college.
    – user51651
    Commented Sep 11, 2013 at 1:21
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I'd say both are acceptable, though female author is probably more common. Authoress is now a bit old fashioned, I believe; it evokes a hint of romance and high literature to me, often in an ironic sense. In most cases, there is no need to express the sex of an author outside the use of pronouns (U.G. Liness uses this technique in her latest novel...): most people would simply use author for either sex.

I think gender is a bit more modern than sex, but, again, both are fine and quite common. In grammar, however, it is now nearly always gender.

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  • Has it ever been "grammatical sex"? I'm genuinely curious
    – No Name
    Commented May 19, 2023 at 2:04
  • @NoName: I thought so, but I'm not sure now. Commented May 19, 2023 at 14:49
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This is surely the same as the Female Actor or Actress question.

If you must specify the sex of the writer, then either is OK as far as I can see (although "authoress" probably sounds quite old-fashioned to most people in a way in which "actress" doesn't). On the other hand if whether or not the person is female is not a significant issue, then why not just stick with "author"?

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