As language progresses, some words go out of style. Some words disappear completely, while some become meaningless, that is, they’ve lost their meaning out of disregard or displacement. The recent death of Joan Rivers brought this lesson home because she, as well as all other females who tell jokes, was referred to as a comedian, not a comedienne. I grew up with the latter term, but in recent years it has almost disappeared. Women who tell jokes or star in comedy movies or TV shows are now female comedians.
Likewise, a woman who stars in a show of any nature is an actor. Not an actress. Awards now are given for “Best Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading (or Supporting) Role.” Nobody is an actress anymore. The term “actor” indicates a performer of any sex (or should I say, gender), and actress has no meaning.
So we now have words going out of style. Actresses and comediennes no longer exist. These words are now nothing more than collections of letters without a meaning. This is different from words of a long time ago that are still around and have meaning, but are little used. For example, words such as “thou,” “thee,” and “thy.” But referring to a woman as an “actress” is considered an insult. It’s as though women performers want to be included in the same category as men, i.e., as “actors,” for reasons I can only guess at. But one of the most important reasons for the existence of language is to provide a collection of letters, that is, words, that identify specific meanings. Language points out nuances and essences. Different meanings usually get different words, in spite of the existence of synonyms. It seems unnecessary to include women in a category with men, but if that’s the way they want it, I guess that’s the way it’ll have to be. It just means that we now have words that have completely lost their meaning and are flying around like feckless wads in the wilderness (to quote a friend of mine).
There must be other words that have lost their meaning. Can you think of any?