Comedienne

The gendered noun comedienne—the female equivalent of comedian—has been growing in prevalence over the last few years, but its use in 21st-century English is questionable for a few reasons. First, most female comedians refer to themselves as comedians, not comediennes. Second, gendered terms can be distracting, especially where the traditionally male forms have long been standard for describing people of both sexes (as is the case with comedian). Third, such gendered terms can be interpreted as sexist, especially when the person’s sex is beside the point.

Examples

Here are a couple of examples of the questionable comedienne used in context:

Comedienne Kathy Griffin showed once again that she is no wallflower as she  stepped out in yet another swimsuit on her getaway in Honolulu. [Daily Mail]

Those who also made the list of leaders, thinkers, artists and heroes include comedienne Amy Poehler. [Washington Post]

And as these writers show, comedian is a perfectly good word to describe female comedians:

Amelia Bullmore is a brilliant radio comedian, as listeners to Radio 4’s Down the Line and other entertainments will know. [Telegraph]

The comedian was on the third stop of a promotional tour for her new memoir, Bossypants. [Slate]

For many of us, American comedian Tina Fey has been our first, best defence against the charge that feminists are not funny. [Winnipeg Free Press]

Comments

  1. Montana Pioneer says:

    Good writing is specific, and comedienne is specific to a woman, and so better writing. Gender in language, more over, is not, or should not be, a matter of political correctness. It is common that nouns have male or female forms many languages. This article writer states that comedian is a perfectly good word to describe a female. So is comedienne!

    • starlightsynesthesia says:

      No. Just no. You don’t see how women with insecurities about their own sex’s oppression and alleged inferiority might be offended by someone calling them a “comedienne” rather than a “comedian”, and her going full retard, using it to claim that the person calling her that, rather innocuously and respectfully, is a sexist? That’s all the world is anymore.

    • It’s a sexist term in a time when we are struggling for some reason to be singled out and individuals. The term comedienne is unnecessary as the comedian is a neutral word that describes both sexes. If you wish to add a sex to be more specific in writing them simply say female comedian. If a female is elected president, are we then going to make up a new word called presidieent? Get real.

      • Oliver Pereira says:

        The fact that many refer to men as “comedians” and women as “comediennes” proves that the word “comedian” is *not* neutral. It proves that it has a bias towards a connotation of maleness. To refer to a woman using a word that has connotations of maleness is not being neutral. It suggests that she is somewhat like a man. Surely that should be considered offensive?

        It’s clearly sexist to denigrate female terms simply for being female, and to hold up male terms as being the default, and as being somehow better to use than their female equivalents. It reinforces the attitude that maleness is the default, and that femaleness is something to be sidelined. When you use a traditionally male form – like “actor” or “hero” – to refer to a woman, you are effectively saying to that woman, “I am so enlightened and progressive that I don’t see you as a mere woman. I see you as an honorary man!” But that’s not really enlightened and progressive at all, is it?

        It is good to use gender-neutral words when it is not necessary to draw attention to the gender of the person being mentioned. It is not good to use terms with connotations of gender and to pretend that they are neutral.

      • And what about male comedian instead of female comedian if comedian is a neutral word?

  2. Stuart Filson says:

    Fuck this word! It’s almost as bad as doctress.”Heads up, this performer has a vagina or otherwise identifies as a female”; why am I being told this and is it really so important to necessitate a new word to express this? We should be better than these gender insecure terms. If a comedian is black, should we have to call them an afrocomedian? No, because it’s unnecessary like comedienne which is devisive and of no worthwhile value. If a comedian’s gender is of relevance, say (blank) comedian. Otherwise, just use the gender neutral terminology as is already the norm and is more respectful.

    • Oliver Pereira says:

      Yes! Use the gender-neutral terminology. I fully agree with that exhortation. Where your argument breaks down is where you assert that the word “comedian” is gender-neutral. The fact that many use it to connote maleness means that it is not neutral at all. So perhaps we should just stop using it altogether! We should at least stop using it to refer to female people. Using a word with a connotation of maleness to refer to a female person is not respectful at all.

      • Stuart Filson says:

        That’s a good point. Although a likewise argument could be made towards the term “construction worker”, as a construction worker isn’t necessarily male but there exists a connotation. I think restructuring the English lexicon for all of these instances is too strenuous. Instead, I prefer the treatment given to terms like “fireman” and “policeman”, which have been largely phased out in favour of “firefighter” and “police officer”. Unlike “fireman”, a comedian isn’t explicitly male but there is a stereotype that doesn’t just stop at the male connotation but can also be extended to a Jewish connotation among other aspects. I draw the line depending on if the gender association is explicit or not. As a lifelong watcher of stand-up comedy, it is my belief (although anecdotal) that the male connotation has greatly faded. Ngram illustrates that the usage of “comedienne” has notably decreased which I infer to suggest that it is not as relevant for today’s speech.

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