I saw an article today that prompted a thought. I only took a year of Latin in high school, so I want to run this by some other people.

The article referenced a female senator so-and-so. However, I think that senator, with the -or ending is in the nominative, third declension, which is not gender neutral. So, when referring to a female subject, should senatrix be used instead?

Also, does anyone know if there is a reason why the male form is used exclusively? I think females were restricted from the Roman senate — perhaps the term just never made sense etymologically because of this?

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    Because it's English, not Latin?
    – Catija
    Jul 27 '16 at 21:22
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    No, no, the trend is going the other way: we no longer have actresses, only actors; we no longer have waitresses, only servers; we no longer have "women X", we simply have "X", because we no longer treat the fact that a woman has attained some role as surprising or worthy of note, because that's demeaning to women as a whole.
    – Dan Bron
    Jul 27 '16 at 21:32
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    What is the functional point of having gendered nouns in a non-gendered language? We have no declensions or conjugations that are gender-specific, so why bother to differentiate nouns? Even worse, if we decide senatrix is required, would we have to go through the dictionary systematically and create a female form for every other noun? - farmeress, astronauta, programmerita, motor-cyclista... Then you'd have to masculinise any jobs that a man ("suprisingly") does: Typisto, Nursum, Receptionor... Jul 28 '16 at 8:09
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    @OwenBoyle so a woman working in movies is not an actress anymore but she is an actor? I am not a native speaker and I didn't know that. Funny fact: in Italian we are doing the exact opposite of what you describe. Many male-only words are currently being coupled with a new female form. Jul 31 '16 at 11:45
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    @smci The only place I've ever seen witch/wizard used as a gender-pair is in Harry Potter. In any other context, a male witch and a wizard are very different things, as are female wizard and witch. My understanding is that a male witch is typically called a warlock (that one's debatable too, but still more prolific than wizard), but a female wizard is just a wizard. Jul 31 '16 at 17:29

A number of answers have addressed the fact that in the United States, the use of gender-specific nouns is becoming less fashionable. However, that does not explain why a female equivalent of senator has never existed, only why if it did exist once, it might be less favoured now.

I try to answer the etymological question here in relation to senatrix.

There is no classical support for senatrix.

The word senator was, both originally in English and in Latin, an expression referring exclusively to males, simply for the unfortunate dearth of female senators. In classical Rome, a senator (Latin sĕnātor) was always a man, and when the word later came to be used to refer to members of foreign legislatures, to my knowledge all such references were to men. Indeed sĕnātor itself essentially meant ‘elderly man’, from senex, ‘old, elderly’.

The obvious female equivalent, sĕnātrix, does appear in Lewis & Short, but a brief search on Perseus suggests it is not attested in any major classical source.

Of course, Rome had two famous female senators in the tenth century mediaeval senate (or what was left of it), and indeed sĕnātrix was the formal title used by Theorda and Marozia, her daughter*. But they are an anomaly, and were I think of little interest when the word senator was imported into English and first popularized.

Therefore we begin with a situation in which anyone who read Latin would know that sĕnātrix was not a classical word, and those of us who delight in imposing arcane Latin grammar rules on unsuspecting English speakers are equally reluctant to pollute the lexicon with artificial Latin words [and anything after August 476 AD doesn't count].

On the use of sénatrice in French.

The French word sometimes used for a female senator (sénatrice) appears to be a backformation from sénateur + -trice rather than derived directly from *sĕnātrix. That said, sénatrice is long established in the French language, appearing in the 1762 edition of the dictionnaire de L'Académie française. This is curious, as in 1762 the ancien régime remained strong and the date long precedes the the establishment of the French Sénat in 1799. However my knowledge of French and France is embarrassingly poor, so all I shall say is that 1762 is long after the word senator appeared in English. Therefore senator had become an English word by this time, and I suggest that the continuing evolution of its cognate in French would have had limited effect on the use of senator in English.

The Académie française now discourages the use of sénatrice.

There is little use of senatrix at any time in English.

A Google Ngram search reveals that senatrix did have a brief period of use in the early twentieth century, around the time that the notion of female senators entered the public discourse. However, a more detailed inspection reveals that this seems to be an upswing in interest about Theodora and Marozia, rather than in the composition of the modern legislature.

In that search I did find one tantalizing reference to the ‘senatrix from Kansas’, but as the reference dates from 1898, eighty years before the first female senator from Kansas, and is entitled ‘Judge's Library: A Monthly Magazine of Fun’, it cannot be taken at face value.

senatrix has little in the way of a history and less in the way of a future.

Lacking a sound etymological past, senatrix was not popular among those most likely to have adopted it; and until 1932 there was regrettably very little need for the word to be used at all in popular discourse.

As the other answers carefully elucidate, in English, particularly American English, there is a trend away from long-established gender-specific words, so it seems quite unlikely we will see the adoption of any artificial ones any time soon.

*You may recall that Gibbon famously describes them in Decline and Fall as ‘sister prostitutes’, but later sources are quite clear that they were mother and daughter. Gibbon does not use the word senatrix as far as I can see.

  • 2
    "Therefore we begin with a situation..." as a former Latin student who delighted in arcane grammar rules, that paragraph alone is worth the +1 :D A great discussion of the etymology, I learned something today!
    – user812786
    Jul 28 '16 at 11:44
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    +1 for the background and for including the reference to the similar french word. Jul 28 '16 at 13:48
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    Fun thing about French is nouns are gendered but masculine profession names are considered non-gender-specific. You can use masculine noun or its feminization (when it exists) for a female. For extra fun and profit, addressing the Assembly/Senate carries specific rules about gender use. Also, feminization is seen as a sign of emancipation or of inequality by some and they'll take offence if you use the wrong form. Jul 28 '16 at 14:58
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    Of course, nonexistence of an actual Latin form doesn't necessarily imply nonexistence of a corresponding form in English—the attested and definitely existing English word aviatrix (and its masculine counterpart aviator) did not exist in Latin at all. But then aviatrix didn't miss the boat like senatrix: it was coined at a time when specific female forms were common and considered proper, so it managed to obtain a (brief) bit of history. Jul 28 '16 at 22:19
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    @Sulthan The -ess form in English derives from the Latin feminine suffix -issa. Again if you are being ‘very careful’ with your etymology, the -ess suffix would be even worse than the -trix suffix, because senator is in the wrong declension to move to *senatrissa. I'm not saying that anyone who does that in English should be shot (it isn't Latin), but I suggest that anyone who really cared about the problem ‘we should not use senator for females’ back in the 1800s would know that *senatress was not an etymologically better choice than senator (and it is worse than *senatrix).
    – Calchas
    Jul 29 '16 at 11:46

The first woman elected to the US Senate was Hattie Caraway in 1932. They have always been called "senators". Regardless of what you may think is "correct", that horse left the barn a long time ago.


English is not Latin. In English, senator is used regardless of gender.

The OED defines senator as:

  1. A member of a senate.

No mention is made of gender.

The OED does have an entry for senatress meaning a female senator but labels it rare and only has two quotations, both from the 1700s. It probably never caught on because historically only men were senators.

And in this century, even if senatress had caught on, there's no need to have a special label for female senators as both men and women are equally qualified to do the job. If you do need to refer to the gender, perhaps in discussions of the gender balance of a senate, then use female senator or woman senator.


No, you shouldn't call a female senator a "senatrix." I think Catija's comment sums up why: in the context of the article you saw (or any other English language context), the word senator is English, not Latin, even though it's taken from a Latin word.

senator, with the -or ending is in the nominative, third declension, which is not gender neutral

This is only true in Latin. English does not have a third declension (the plural of senator in English is senators rather than senatores), and English words do not have inherent grammatical gender. Some words specify gender as part of their definition (such as mother and father), but that is a different thing, and English words are gender-neutral: for example, a runner is a person who runs, male or female, and we don't need to derive a new word like runneress to refer to a female runner.

There are some affixes used in English such as -ess, she- and he- that can be used to derive new gendered terms, but these are generally optional. Actor can be used to refer to a woman, even though we have the explicitly gendered word actress. Other gender-neutral words that end in -tor: creator, administrator, editor, doctor, director, negotiator, tutor.

The suffix -trix is not generally used in English (outside of legal documents) to form feminine alternatives to nouns in -tor. As TechZen mentions, the most common word like this is probably dominatrix. And to me, that barely even seems like it's derived from the English word dominator, since the meanings are significantly different (most dictionaries that I have checked list the S&M definition only for dominatrix and not for dominator, and the connection is evidently unclear for one person on Yahoo Answers who asked "What is a male dominatrix called?").

  • I was always fond of aviatrix....
    – Hellion
    Jul 28 '16 at 20:10
  • @Hellion: that's probably the next most common (and it clearly does form a pair with "aviator").
    – herisson
    Jul 28 '16 at 20:20
  • @Hellion: "Trix the Aviatrix" is a character with a song about her profession in the (hilarious farce) musical The Drowsy Chaperone. Jul 28 '16 at 20:23
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    Doctrix and editrix are lovely little words, but tutrix is just silly. (I tweaked your second paragraph a bit to make it clear that things like mother/father aren't grammatical number; it semi-sounded like you were saying they are.) Jul 28 '16 at 22:10

The Oxford English Dictionary says about senatrix:

No dictionary entries found for ‘senatrix’


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    The term is senatress: en.m.wiktionary.org/wiki/senatress
    – user66974
    Jul 27 '16 at 22:15
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    Not having a dictionary entry is a far cry from "QED", words are added & dropped all the time; if anything it shows that the dictionary is possibly incomplete.
    – Xen2050
    Jul 29 '16 at 10:21
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    @Xen2050 The OED does not remove words, it only adds them. The OED intends to be a complete historical dictionary, so that if you are reading an obscure piece of 14th century text, you can still find out the meaning of an unusual word in it. if *senatrix was ever widely attested in English, it should be in the OED. However I agree that this does not explain the absence of the word, only adds weight that it was never present.
    – Calchas
    Jul 29 '16 at 12:35
  • @Calchas That's false; there are a number of words that Oxford omitted from their OED2. 50 filing cabinets worth of note cards, if I recall right. Jul 31 '16 at 22:16

There have been 45 female United States senators since 1932. 20 are serving now. There's no precedent for referring to a female senator as a "senatrix". If one used the term, even if the audience understood the Latin borrowing and how Latin inflects for gender, the hyper-correction would be interpreted as calling attention to the senator's gender when referring to her, and it would come across as condescending or dismissive.

  • Even the parallel "Congresswoman" is falling out of favor.
    – arp
    Jun 3 '18 at 17:13

Yes, senatrix would be the logical choice. However, we don't happen to have female variants for all nouns denoting people, e.g. baker, director, doctor. There is no reason why we should not have them, but history is whimsical like that. So you can use whatever word you like, but be aware that senatrix is not normally used at all.

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    Other than dominatrix -rix is not a productive English suffix. If we wanted a female variant of senator, it would be senatress not senatrix. Jul 31 '16 at 4:20

I would like to point out that grammatical gender of a position has nothing to do with the gender of a person performing that role. This is true in Latin and other languages that support grammatical gender, such as French. While it may be argued that the role of senator would have been exclusively a male role in Roman times, and therefore the noun should take the masculine form, there are plenty of examples where the reverse is true. La gendarmerie is the French Police force. Are you going to tell them they are feminine, or shall I? The same is true of an alumnus. The plural is alumni regardless of whether the subject person is male or female. Latin is a dead language, you cannot change it to suit modern tastes!

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    If you have a group of more than one (exclusively female) alumna, the preferred Latin plural would be alumnae. For instance, Murray Edwards College, Cambridge, which only accepts women, uses alumna and alumnae to refer to graduate members of its congregation, and not alumnus nor alumni, which would imply the presence of men. As you say fashions change, so I am not saying this is the house style that everyone uses, but I'm just pointing out that the assertion that alumnus has no female equivalent is not true.
    – Calchas
    Jul 29 '16 at 11:27
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    Of course you are absolutely correct to say that the grammatical gender of the word is often distinct from the natural gender of the person to which word applies, in many languages, and perhaps too much attention is paid these days to the implication that they must be the same, so I will upvote you for that.
    – Calchas
    Jul 29 '16 at 11:31
  • Quite so, but how do you explain La Gendarmerie? Jul 29 '16 at 12:09
  • "La gendarmerie" and "la police" are singular collective nouns in French, not plural nouns. They refer to groups, which don't have any natural gender. A normal plural like "gendarmes" that refers to multiple male individuals will be masculine.
    – herisson
    Jul 29 '16 at 17:14

The same issue comes up in the word *senile,*and although anile is an English word, it is seldom used. As for the suffix trix, it clings to life in geometry, where a parabola is defined as the locus of points equidistant from a point p and a line L called the directrix. Perhaps one could argue that "directrix" is just a Latin word. I don't think so.

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