I've recently noticed the word actor used for female actresses in the Indian print media.

I have a few questions :
a) Is this the correct usage of the word?
b) Is this an international phenomenon?
c) Are you aware of the origins, time and purpose of this change?


2 Answers 2


a) It's correct to use the term "actor" for males and females

b) It's an international phenomenon

c) For origins and purpose of the change, see the Wikipedia entry for actor:

The word actor refers to a person who acts regardless of gender, while actress refers specifically to a female person who acts; therefore a female can be referred to by either term. The Oxford English Dictionary states that originally "actor" was used for both sexes. The English word actress does not derive from the Latin actrix, probably not even by way of French actrice; according to the Oxford English Dictionary, actress was "probably formed independently" in English. As actress is a specifically feminine word, some groups assert that the word is sexist. Gender-neutral usage of actor has re-emerged in modern English, especially when referring to male and female performers collectively, but actress remains the common term used in major acting awards given to female recipients and is common in general usage.

  • 1
    Some with waiter/waitress, b.t.w. Sep 22, 2010 at 20:45
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    There is a difference: a waiter and a waitress do the same jobs. You can't as easily substitute an actor with an actress. Not in most roles, anyway.
    – TRiG
    Oct 19, 2010 at 18:27
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    I'm pretty sure this isn't the case in British English, possibly just yet.
    – Wes
    Apr 28, 2011 at 22:06
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    @TRiG So would a doctor, teacher, police officer, child, bus driver, etc., etc. be played by an actor or an actress. There are very many roles where either could be used - so many that I'm not sure I would agree with your "most". (Written before I saw the answer from @UnbiasedOnlooker.)
    – TrevorD
    Jun 28, 2013 at 16:57
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    @Wes Chambers - a British dictionary defines "actor" as "a man or woman who performs in plays or films, especially as their profession."
    – TrevorD
    Jun 28, 2013 at 17:03

Oxford Dictionaries Online has the following footnote addressing this issue:

In the time of Shakespeare female roles were played by boys or men, and women did not appear on stage in England until after the Restoration of 1660. Female performers were then called either actors or actresses—it was only later that actor became restricted to men—and it seems that we are returning to the original situation. Although there is still an awards category at the Oscars called Best Actress, some people are again using the gender-neutral term actor for both sexes.

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