No more mistresses

August 22, 1997

SUE Wilks and Griselda Pollock (THES, August 15) wish to "outlaw sexist bachelor and masters degrees" as they are part of "archaic male-dominated language", and Ms Wilks wishes to be called Mistress of Arts. Doctor is also derived from a masculine Latin word and should surely be banned as well, or else medical practitioners and PhDs, following her argument, should be doctors and doctresses. Magistrate shares the same etymological root as master and must also be eliminated from the language as sexist.

No substitute for bachelor is given, however, so may I suggest the Scandinavian title for a first degree: candidate. It shares, however, all the problems of master, being derived from a word of masculine gender, and originally applied only to men before women entered universities. No complaint is made about arts and science, I am glad to see, but then they come from Latin words of feminine gender.

Bachelor, master/magister and doctor, however, simply refer to rank and status. A bachelor is a novice and came to refer to any young person, a master signifies advanced academic status (it is related to the adverb magis meaning more or greater), and doctor means teacher.

The fact that all these titles, like ambassador or minister (etymologically, the opposite of magister), were originally applied to men cannot be denied, but surely it reflects the advances in the equality of women and men that we no longer use ambassadoress, ministress or poetess. Please don't turn the clock back and introduce mistress.

Graham D. Caie English language department University of Glasgow

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