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Bachelorette meaning "unmarried woman" is an English expression with a French-sounding flavor which dates back to the late 19th century, but its usage has considerably increased from the early '90s.

In recent decades the expression seems to be more commonly used than other less appealing synonyms such as "spinster" or "unmarried woman".

In recent online articles, for instance, you may read:

  • "Gwyneth Paltrow's Bachelorette Getaway in Mexico" (from Enews)

  • "Bachelorette Becca Kufrin Reveals the One Celebrity She Wants to Compete for Her Heart" (from ETnews)

Questions:

Is bachelorette becoming the "preferred" neutral expression to refer to an "unmarried woman"? Is it commonly used both in BrE and AmE? What may have caused its increase in usage from the '90s, one century later than it was first coined?

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    "Spinster" has a connotation of an older unmarried woman. You might call a 60-year-old a spinster, but you can call a 20-year-old a bachelorette. – Jim MacKenzie Apr 18 '18 at 13:15
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    @EdwinAshworth - why do you think this is answerable by commonly available reference. Apart from Ngram what source can answer this, and is the evidence from Google Books reliable here? – user067531 Apr 18 '18 at 13:55
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    I only use the terms bachelor and bachelorette in conjunction with marriage activities. bachelors go to bachelor parties just prior to getting married and bachelorettes go to bachelorette parties. Outside of that context I call people single. bachelorette and spinster mean nothing remotely similar in my experience and Ngrams showing their relative usage is about as useful as the relative usage of lawnmower and birthday cake – Jim Apr 18 '18 at 18:05
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    @lbf I've hardly heard "bride's maid party" you had wedding showers .. and perhaps a quaint tradition to 'bride's maid parties" but from my circles.. the night out on the town that is NOT a shower among friends is "bachelorette party" if there is one. I can get 'bacherlorette party' to show up on ngram for the last 20 years but can't get anything like bride's maid party to – Tom22 Apr 18 '18 at 21:07
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    Except in the frozen expression "bachelorette party", I would be surprised to see the word "bachelorette" outside of celebrity gossip or intentionally ironic comments. And there's no point comparing its frequency of use to that of "spinster". To the extent it was ever used (decades ago, like on "The Dating Game") "bachelorette" evoked a young woman with her marrying years ahead of her. "Spinster" implies that they came and went. A young single woman might eventually start to fret that she will become a spinster if she doesn't get married soon. So the words don't refer to the same thing. – Green Grasso Holm Apr 18 '18 at 23:00
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According to COCA, bachelorette is more popular than spinster (and unmarried woman), something that only really changed in the last 10-20 years. Compare the "per mil" rows in the following charts.

Spinster:

Bachelorette:

Unmarried Woman:

One pretty significant thing I see in these charts is the fact that most of the hits for spinster are from fiction (and there are very few hits for the other sections).


It's also important to note that spinster is not neutral:

The development of the word spinster is a good example of the way in which a word acquires strong connotations to the extent that it can no longer be used in a neutral sense. From the 17th century the word was appended to names as the official legal description of an unmarried woman: Elizabeth Harris of London, Spinster. This type of use survives today in some legal and religious contexts. In modern everyday English, however, spinster cannot be used to mean simply ‘unmarried woman’; it is now always a derogatory term, referring or alluding to a stereotype of an older woman who is unmarried, childless, prissy, and repressed
Oxford Dictionaries

  • @lbf You can use it for free, but you have to wait to run some of the queries (it's annoying, I'll admit). Also, its name is COCA. – Laurel Apr 18 '18 at 16:13
  • Interesting data which confirms my initial impression. Btw, I am aware that spinster is not neutral, and I never said it is, but the popularity of bachelorette is quite recent so spinster may have been used to refer to an unmarried woman without offense in the past. – user067531 Apr 18 '18 at 18:02
  • What made bachelorette popular from the ‘90s remains a mistery, though. – user067531 Apr 18 '18 at 18:03
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    Consider that The Bachelorette became a TV show in 2003. This no doubt made the word much more popular after that date. Prior to that there obviously were other drivers, but I've never gotten any hint that the term is deemed a replacement for "spinster". – Hot Licks Apr 18 '18 at 18:58
  • @user3850720 1965 'Dating Game" was on Am Tv and used the noun ... i am not sure though of its impact. – lbf Apr 18 '18 at 19:36
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Is bachelorette becoming the "preferred" neutral expression to refer to an "unmarried woman"?

These ngrams, first AmE and second BrE do not suggest it is so:

american English

BrE

Is it commonly used both in BrE and AmE? & what may have caused its increased in usage from the '90s, one century later than it was first coined?

In the U.S. the eponymously named show has likely had influence. Spinster may have declined somewhat and likely suffers from the pc police. Single woman seems to be more acceptable. In the U.S. rarely is bachelorette used unless discussing the TV show or in just casual/informal talk.

In this wikipedia article the possible origins of bachelorette are discussed (1965 and 2003). wikipedia

and this article on the BrE use of same: Anglophenia

addendum: I coaxed ngram to 'cough up' data to 2008 v 2000. (AmE on the left, BrE on the right) There is noted a definite uptick in bachelorette but single woman still predominates. But 10 years have passed. There is a sophisticated too to analyze spoken word, (BYU Corpora) but it is costly.

ngrams

  • OP has linked to Google Ngrams. – Edwin Ashworth Apr 18 '18 at 13:35
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    I think that you need to consider a much shorter and recent period to gauge the increase/decrease in usage of the terms. My question refers to the last few decades. – user067531 Apr 18 '18 at 13:53
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    That's a fascinating comparison. My expectation would be that bachelorette would be way more common than spinster, which both feel to me as old as the age of the people they imply. As to the plain 'single woman' I can't tell, maybe way way way more common than either because it is not as specialized? – Mitch Apr 18 '18 at 19:29
  • My thoughts are : "bacholette" parties have only been common by name the last 20 years or so.. an nearly as "normal" now as "bachelor parties" it would have taken a while for them to get into books.. however this use of "bacherlorette" is not really at all to refer to an unmarried woman.. only to a woman having a party who plans marriage - so I would be wary to read that increase in use as being necessarily related to women who do not have a wedding planned – Tom22 Apr 18 '18 at 20:49
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    I looked up both 'bachelorette' and 'bachelorette party' on ngrams and it confirmed my suspicion -- over 1/3 of uses of bachelorette are within bachelorette party AND , I can only imagine that any book that included a description of a party would also use the single word bachelorette (or bachelorettes referring to guests occasionally) within it , in that context meaning almost(almost) fiance having a boisterous girls' party – Tom22 Apr 18 '18 at 21:01
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It would appear so but it really depends on the people you hang around with.some younger people say bachelorette but older ,might say spinster like when dating some say courting it just really depends

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    Thanks for your contribution and welcome to the site. Actually, for a short additional thought, like what you wrote here, it would be better to make this a comment, rather than a whole answer. – aparente001 Apr 21 '18 at 1:39

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