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The suffix “-ess” is used to create feminine forms of masculine or gender-neutral nouns in English. However, contemporary usage increasingly favors unmarked, gender-neutral forms for female referents in favor of these explicitly marked feminine forms. Drawing on data from Google’s Ngram Viewer and insights from gender studies and linguistics, this research examines and accounts for the decline in use of words suffixed in “-ess.” This analysis contends that the decline is driven by factors including increasing equality in the workforce, negative associations of words suffixed with “-ess” such as “mistress” and “adultress,” and a rejection of male-centric language norms. The decline in use of the suffix “-ess” is one manifestation of a greater trend toward adopting gender-neutral language and achieving gender equality in language. By examining the decline of the suffix “-ess,” this study gives insight into how a language adjusts to fit the society of its speakers.



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Goddess, Murderess, Doctress: An Exploration of the English Suffix “-ess” and Its Decline in Use