Letter: Female role

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The Independent Culture
Sir: Reading your "Accidental Heroes" column on 13 March, I was intrigued to learn that Tony Warren had chosen an actor to play the manifestly feminine role of Ena Sharples in Coronation Street. Back to Shakespeare, or at least "Old Mother Riley", I thought. Not a bit of it! This so-called actor was in fact an actress, the "formidable Violet Carson".

What conceivable utility is there in describing an actress as an actor? The former term is time-honoured, dating back at least to the end of the 17th century, and is one of the rare instances in English where we can indicate both gender and profession in a single word.

No Frenchwoman would be ashamed to describe herself as "une boulangere", nor a Spaniard as "una profesora". Indeed, the French are pushing ahead with greater "feminisation" of their nouns - "madame la ministre" alongside "monsieur le ministre", and "une deputee" as opposed to "un depute". Why are our female thespians so coy?

The object of language is to convey meaning, not to cloud it - which is what giving a unisex meaning to "actor" does. Can anyone justify this bizarre development?


Teddington, Middlesex