Words: Hostess

Share
Related Topics
Children taken to parties used to be told to behave and to be sure to say a nice thank you to the hostess, most likely remembered as a stately dame with what the French would call beaucoup de monde au balcon. Later, hostesses presided (always the word) over the afternoon teacakes and scones, and were gracious. Modern hostesses of this sort have little in common with the wide-eyed 17-year-old "Soho hostess" who, according to reports, befriended the Tory MP Piers Merchant, apart from the name they share.

It makes you think how vague English is, but it's good to know that the Romans who gave us the word were even more imprecise. The hospes (feminine hospita could be either the host or the guest; hospites were friends of whom one was entertaining the other, with no distinction as to which was which. To confuse matters further, a hospes could be either a friend or a stranger, because of the tradition of giving hospitality to travellers, so that all innkeepers were called hospes or hosts.

Hostis, a related word, had also meant a stranger - thence an enemy, thence a hostile army, and, in its English version, any large number of people or even things - the multitude of the heavenly host, say, or the hosts of guests whom a host invited to his party, as well as the host of things they discussed at it. None of this is to do with the host which is the consecrated bread of the Eucharist and which comes from the quite different hostia, a sacrificial victim. I'm surprised that the inclusivists, who like to refer to Spitfire pilots as "he or she", haven't got to work on hostess, seeing that a female prostitute may be described as a hostess while a male one is seldom called a host. We're as bad as the ancient Greeks, for whom a hetaira was a female companion or a tart, according to context.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Air Conditioning Engineers

£38000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: M&E Contractor based in Leeds h...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Showroom Manager - Maternity Cover

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This global company are looking for an Assista...

Recruitment Genius: Java Developer - Birmingham - Jewellery Quarter

£20000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is in the serviced...

Recruitment Genius: Front End Developer - Ember JS - Birmingham

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is in the serviced...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Social housing needs to stop being squeezed into developments as we go along

Ivan Massow
Rachel Hollis posted a photo of herself in a bikini on holiday online with the caption 'I'm proud of this body and every mark on it'  

At last there’s a new ‘bikini body’ ideal – and it’s one with stretch marks

Victoria Richards
The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss