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Actresses and apostrophes

April 8, 2012

Well, the review appeared in the Independent on Sunday today and actress had not been amended to actor, so the feminine form is obviously still accepted by the subs there. However, those same subs also failed to correct my misplaced apostrophe when I wrote author’s instead of authors’ (possessive form referring to two co-authors),  so their judgement is clearly not infallible. Actually it’s particularly annoying about that apostrophe, because I’ve pontificated on this subject for years, officiously corrected public signs with a magic marker when the apostrophe is in the wrong place and even written an article about it for The Guardian. Now I’ve gone public with an apostrophe error of my own – just a slip, but the subs could have preserved me from it, and didn’t. From now on I will always make sure my apostrophes are correct and I think I’ll start using actor generically.

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  1. C. Robshaw permalink

    I like the last part best xxx

  2. Peter Howell permalink

    Bertie Ardel recently won ‘Best Actor in a Musical’ for his role as Miss Trunchbull in Tim Minchin’s musical version of _Matilda_ (he was absolutely brilliant, by the way, and bizarrely sexual, I thought, but that’s another matter). It seems strange to think of ‘actor’ here as masculine, but one must, as there’s also a ‘Best Actress’ character. It would seem stranger, for some reason, if a female actor were to win ‘Best Actress’ for playing a male character. The tradition of having different categories for male and female actors at such award ceremonies comes, I guess, from a time when actresses just had to be attractive and serve as love-interest or foil to the male lead, so they were in essence doing different jobs. I guess it persists as positive discrimination; for many years there was famously a shortage of good roles for female actors, so the different categories continued to exist to make sure that their work got recognised. But it might now be time to have one ‘Best Actor’ (gender neutral) prize, with a runner-up, both of which would be open to men and women.

    Just one more point, I promise, about gender bias in language: for happy reasons that will be obvious, Caroline and I have been reading a lot of books about pregnancy and babies. Some of the older books routinely use the pronoun ‘he’ to refer to the foetus, and some of the newer books use ‘she’, or alternate between the two. I don’t think there’s any way round this, given that ‘he or she’ is clumsy, ‘it’ clearly won’t do, and ‘they’ would imply to most people the alarming or joyous prospect of a multiple birth. This stuff matters, of course, because prospective parents do have preferences as to the sex of their child, even if it’s taboo to say so in western societies, and it’s wrong to build up expectations So alternating between ‘he’ and ‘she’ seems to me the best way to go.

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