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I recently came across the word scooterette in an Indian newspaper. I wondered if this is an Indian coinage; a quick search on Google showed me it's almost purely Indian. I could not find a reliable dictionary reference, but this article says these scooterettes are scooters manufactured specifically for women.

What is the reason this suffix "-ette" is used to refer to a female? Are there other nouns which become feminine by this addition? Or is this just some neologist's portmanteau of scooter and dudette?

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The -ette suffix is normally applied to women, not objects designed specifically for women. Thus suffragette, your dudette, usherette and the like. The French language uses -ette to feminise names: Paul/Paulette, Claude/Claudette, etc., and the same principle is used to feminise some nouns in English to create a female variant.

By extension it can also mean "small", cigarette, novelette, Nissan's Vanette and so on. These aren't female, or specially for women.

It's not normally used to create a noun like scooterette meaning "a scooter for women", although perhaps it's simply a smaller scooter which happens to appeal to women (and not men, so it's ridden exclusively by women).

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  • Your first sentence is confusing to me – after all, the suffix is applied to objects as well as women, isn't it? Luncheonette, diskette, towelette, launderette... Just curious; maybe I'm missing something? – J.R. May 9 '12 at 18:50
  • @J.R. I know what I meant: I'm not sure the edit makes it any better... – Andrew Leach May 9 '12 at 18:59
  • I see what you're getting at now – thanks for the explanation! – J.R. May 9 '12 at 19:02
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There are also majorette and usherette, but -ette can be a diminutive suffix, used to produce words such as kitchenette and cigarette. It is also sometimes used to describe imitation material such as leatherette.

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-ette is frequently used to indicate the fairer sex. As in bachelorette, suffragette, etc.

-ette
a noun suffix occurring originally in loanwords from French, where it has been used in a variety of diminutive and hypocoristic formations (brunette; cigarette; coquette; etiquette; rosette); as an English suffix, -ette forms diminutives (kitchenette; novelette; sermonette), distinctively feminine nouns (majorette; usherette), and names of imitation products (leatherette).

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Mostly ditto Andrew Leach and Kevin.

Note that -ess is also used in English to make a word feminine, like prince/princess, actor/actress, waiter/waitress, etc.

As the right-wing traditionalist here, I am disappointed to have to add that the use of -ette and -ess to make words feminine is largely dying out. In some cases the male form is now being applied to both sexes, or a new word is chosen to apply to both. Like instead of saying "steward" or "stewardess" we're now supposed to say "flight attendant", etc.

-ette seems to be surviving in the sense of "smaller".

On a tangent, I was in an office supply store a while ago and they had a display of pens. On one side the sign said "Pens for Men" and on the other side "Pens for Women". I didn't have time to look, but I have wondered ever since what the difference would be. Of all the products that might have male and female versions, pens are not one that occurred to me.

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  • Apparently Bic have launched pens "for her" to general amusement. Pink barrels mean blue ink; purple barrels mean black ink. The reviews on Amazon show what a vital innovation this is. – Henry Oct 20 '12 at 15:51
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its generally female because of its etymology: From the French -ette, the feminine form of the diminutive suffix -et.

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