Waiter vs Waitress vs Waitron

September 22nd, 2009 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

An amusing column by Karl du Fresne:

After wittily skewering the pretentiousness that frequently characterises restaurant reviews in newspapers and magazines (and of which I’ve probably been guilty myself), Joe confronts the terms “waiter” and “waitress”.

He notes that the “ess” suffix has fallen out of favour, supposedly because it’s demeaning. Disappointingly, he seems to capitulate on this issue when I would have expected him to put up a fight.

Although acknowledging that he has never met a waitress who said she found the word demeaning, he nonetheless turns his attention to the quest for an acceptable, gender-neutral alternative and comes up with “waiters”.

This term, Joe writes, describes their job precisely and is by definition sexually non-specific. But alas, “it has been deemed unsatisfactory by the people who resolve such matters. It seems that usage has smeared the word permanently with testosterone.”

He then pounces with glee on the preposterous neologism coined to get around this non-problem – namely, “waitron”.

I’ve seen this term used occasionally and assumed the usage was tongue-in-cheek; a satirical poke at the that now contaminates the language. How could it be otherwise?

But no; it appears the word is making a serious bid for acceptance. It’s not in my 2005 edition of the New Zealand Oxford Dictionary (though the hideous “waitperson”, a word that almost justifies the reintroduction of capital punishment, is). However we have seen silly, gender-neutral words infiltrate the language before, and a googling of “waitron” indicates it might be gaining ground.

I’m with Joe when he laughs this ridiculous word off the page. He says there are only four words he can think of that end with -ron: cyclotron, electron, neutron and moron. “One is a machine for boffins, two are sub-atomic particles, and one describes the character who invented the word waitron,” he writes. Classic Bennett.

Heh. If someone put on their CV they had been waitron, I would not hire them on principle!

I agree with Joe that there’s nothing degrading about being described as a waitress – or an actress, for that matter. The words waitress and actress simply acknowledge the reality that these people are intrinsically different from their male counterparts.

Does anyone think less of Katharine Hepburn, Meryl Streep or Julia Roberts for being called actresses? Any discriminatory connotation exists only in the minds of crazed ideologues. …

But there’s more to it than that. The English language is a wondrous tool that enables us to narrow down meanings and nuances very precisely.

One of the purposes of words is to create mental pictures and impressions. A writer or journalist using the gender-neutral terms waiter or actor leaves the reader in doubt as to whether the person in question is a he or a she.

This can be a crucial distinction. If I were to write that I had chatted up a cute waiter in a Courtenay Place bar it would create a very different impression than if I had used the “ess” suffix.

Either scenario is highly unlikely – but it illustrates why people who use words for a living should fight like fury to prevent the English language from being de-sexed.

Someone should start a group on Facebook!

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38 Responses to “Waiter vs Waitress vs Waitron”

  1. Brian Smaller (3,992 comments) says:

    Waitron. I get visions of some robotic house maid like the Jetson’s had.

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  2. racer1 (354 comments) says:

    It’s all about context fellas, it is ok for a black person to call his friend “nigger”, because it is not done so with offensive intentions, when racist old bigots like you lot do it, it is not ok. Just the same here, many female “waitrons” are quite happy to be called waiters when its not ment in an offensive way, but as soon as it is coming from sexist old bigots like yourself, it is offensive. Sucks to be you lot.

    [DPF: 20 demerits for trolling and calling everyone a bigot]

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  3. Rakaia George (313 comments) says:

    @Brian – I’m thinking the same and extrapolating through the acting example to “actron”…precisely the word we’ve always needed to describe Keanu Reeves.

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  4. Alistair Miller (557 comments) says:

    This obsession with making language (and everything else, for that matter) “gender neutral” is ridiculous. In other languages, the entire context, and sentence structure, is based on gender.

    I lke Brian Smaller’s Jetsons reference. Reading the post I was thinking to myself that I don’t like waitron and I think waitperson is the most ridiculous word ever invented, but I think “waitbot” has some merit.

    Slightly off-topic, but in my experience the term waiter/waitress has different meanings based on locale. In New Zealand, the term means a person who is friendly, cheerful and helpful while taking a meal order and delivering a meal. Hell, I’ve had plenty of times when we’ve had quite a laugh with the waiter or waitress during the course of an evening.

    In Australia, on the other hand, the term waiter/waitress means a surly, rude, nasty piece of work who thinks they’re doing you a huge favour if they attend at your table, let along take a meal order.

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  5. Repton (769 comments) says:

    Joe Bennett was like an inverse King Canute, commanding the tide to keep advancing.

    …because, really, if “waitron” is a silly word (and I think it is), people won’t use it, and it will wither and die.

    And if it does gain popular acceptance, then all the wailing of curmudgeons like du Fresne will avail naught,

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  6. labrator (1,750 comments) says:

    Beware the Waitronator.

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  7. Pete George (22,851 comments) says:

    I don’t think there is much risk of waitron taking on. But waiter seems an odd word to use anyway. I’d rather have prompt attention but sometimes end up being the waiter.

    Is it only older words/usages that acquired male/female versions? Jogger and blogger are neutral (gender-wise). Bloggertron has a certain ring to it……although it could sound too much like trolls and trolettes.

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  8. stephen (4,063 comments) says:

    The obvious solution is to do as the restaurants do and call them ‘service technicians’.

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  9. racer1 (354 comments) says:

    “Pete George
    Is it only older words/usages that acquired male/female versions? Jogger and blogger are neutral (gender-wise). Bloggertron has a certain ring to it……although it could sound too much like trolls and trolettes.”

    Mainly older words. Blogger is very new, jogging took off as a noun in about the 60′s apparently, and thanks to the more enlightened times we live in now, they don’t carry the offensive baggage I referred to above.

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  10. Jeff83 (771 comments) says:

    Funny thing is English is an anomaly in how little we use male vs. female in how we describe something. The romantic languages (French, Italian, Spanish etc) nearly everything is either male or female. I do guess however that those groups are known for some somewhat chauvinistic behaviour, but I mean seriously Waitress. Bla.

    Lets maybe start somewhere that actually matters, like the double standards on men vs. woman when it comes to sex.

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  11. Pete Macaulay (47 comments) says:

    English speakers can be exceedingly silly and pretentious when it comes to gender. My favourite stupidity is Aviatrix.
    Without wishing to support silly words, the waitron thing is derived from the front end of waiter and the back end of patron, so it not just gender vague, but also role vague.
    If we to piss around with splitting up words and joining them together, dog breeds are a lot more fun, for example
    Jack Shit
    Bullshit
    Pootreiver
    Chihuahua
    Caboodle
    and so on.

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  12. Fletch (6,026 comments) says:

    Oh for crying out loud, I’m so sick of PC bullshit.
    Who cares if a term is applicable to one sex and not the other? Do you see guys complaining about not being able to be called waitress? I still use the term ‘actress’. It isn’t demeaning, it’s just descriptive. If you read ‘the actress walked along the red carpet’ it conjures up an image. If you were to write, ‘the actor walked along the red carpet’ (and being forced to use today’s PC language) you wouldn’t know if it was referring to a man or a woman and would have to use extra verbiage; and why should you?

    And this thing about ‘gingerbread people’ and ‘access hatches’ instead of ‘manhole covers’.

    My mother likes to use the phrase, “we strain at a gnat and swallow a camel” which is one way of saying that the things we cause so much fuss about are the least important, while the really important things we let slide without a second thought.

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  13. Colonel Masters (420 comments) says:

    In an acrobatic desire to be politically correct, Close Up recently showed a female cafe employee and described her as a “waiter” but in a later story the same night described a woman from a funny play as a “comedienne”. A case of having your cake and eating it, I suppose.

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  14. Pete George (22,851 comments) says:

    “The romantic languages (French, Italian, Spanish etc) nearly everything is either male or female. ”

    Also German – English evolved from old German (with some French influence) but discarded a lot of the gender references. PC-ists must have a field day in Europe.

    “we strain at a gnat and swallow a camel” – sounds a bit like the public side of NZ politics.

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  15. Colonel Masters (420 comments) says:

    you wouldn’t know if it was referring to a man or a woman

    Especially when the “actor” is someone like Jamie Fox (I always get him mixed up with Jaime Pressley and Megan Fox). And the same with Sean Penn and Sean Young.

    Why make it difficult for yourself? Smacks of Newspeak where the ultimate desire is to make certain concepts unable to be discussed (or even thought about).

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  16. Camryn (550 comments) says:

    Couldn’t help but post slightly off-topic… Repton, you may be interested to know that King Canute wasn’t the idiot history has made him out to be. In ordering the incoming tide to cease, he was actually intending to fail. It was supposed to be a lesson on the limits of kingly power. Unfortunately it didn’t get remembered that way and is instead given as an example of excessive kingly hubris.

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  17. lyndon (330 comments) says:

    IIRC ‘waitron’ was one of the words Bill Bryson report that the authors of a dictionary mocking politically-correct language made up themselves. So it serves them right. I’m aware the word has currency, but I believe people mostly use ‘waiter’. In the same way they never say ‘baristrice’.

    I have no problem with having to deliberately mention someone’s gender if it is relevent. I’ve certainly know actors to feel strongly about it.

    Perhaps Karl just has a problem with the rise of the Editress.

    cyclotron, electron, neutron and moron

    I’d have thought Patron would occur to him. Ooh, ooh, and Matron.

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  18. Johnboy (14,998 comments) says:

    I haven’t been to a restuarant for a while, when did we stop calling them serving wenches then?

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  19. Repton (769 comments) says:

    @Camryn: In fact, I looked him up on wikipedia before posting, so I did read that. But, eh. History is what people remember :-)

    @Pete: http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/-trix

    Interestingly, the correct word for female actor used to be “actrix”. (and, @lyndon: a female editor would be an editrix :-) )

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  20. stephen (4,063 comments) says:

    but in a later story the same night described a woman from a funny play as a “comedienne”

    I would see that as taking a bit of playful poetic license more than anything. Kind of like the word ‘fasionista’, no real point but mildly amusing.

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  21. Chthoniid (2,028 comments) says:

    What about fuwuyuan. That’s very current in China. ;)

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  22. Pete George (22,851 comments) says:

    Is Matron gender neutral? Is the feminine version matrix? The masculine can’t be mate. Nah, matron = mother. Strange language. Mate is related to meat, funny how varied it’s meanings are.

    Back to topic – if my wife gets me a beer she is waitressing (sort of), but if I am getting her a coffee she is waiting.

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  23. Rex Widerstrom (5,266 comments) says:

    Fear not. Even the wait… things… at the Restaurant at the End of the Universe are still called waiters.

    If I ever get to go, I’m taking philu and as many other vegans as I can find, because I want to hear their discussion with the main course:

    a large fat meaty quadruped of the bovine type with large watery eyes, small horns and what might almost have been an ingratiating smile on its lips. “Good evening,” it lowed and sat back heavily on its haunches, “I am the main Dish of the Day. May I interest you in parts of my body?”

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  24. unaha-closp (1,112 comments) says:

    I’d have thought Patron would occur to him. Ooh, ooh, and Matron.

    Heh.

    Matron – a married woman (usually middle-aged with children) who is staid and dignified.

    Waitron – a waitress who is middle aged and staid?

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  25. Johnboy (14,998 comments) says:

    “if my wife gets me a beer she is waitressing (sort of), ”

    You lucky, lucky, bastard. Dont ever lose her, women like that a very rare. :)

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  26. MT_Tinman (2,993 comments) says:

    A pity the blog credits Du Fresne when the original column was written by NZ’s number one wordsmith, Joe Bennett (Stuff.co.nz last week).

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  27. John Cawston (909 comments) says:

    Hmm,

    Actor/actress
    Waiter/waitress
    Matron/mattress

    JC

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  28. getstaffed (9,189 comments) says:

    Why is an shooter of unknown gender always a ‘gunman‘?

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  29. francis (712 comments) says:

    When I was one, in the US, we were very happy with the idea of being trons, celebrated it. It very aptly described the way our customers treated us, for the most part and embracing the term was a form of revenge humour. But you had to be one to get away with using it ;-)

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  30. Kris K (3,570 comments) says:

    Has anyone else noticed that on TV/radio news items that often when someone speaks on behalf of a group/organisation if it is a woman they are referred to as ‘spokewoman’, whereas a man is referred to as ‘spokeperson’ and very seldom ‘spokesman’? Just seems a little inconsistant to me.

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  31. Tauhei Notts (1,609 comments) says:

    I think a Waitron is the patron of a restaurant who waits for the waitresses to finish texting their many friends before serving that waitron.

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  32. stephen (4,063 comments) says:

    “…and very seldom ’spokesman’?”

    I’d noticed women were now ‘persons’ but that’s just me.

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  33. Tauhei Notts (1,609 comments) says:

    I thought a spokes person was somebody who fixed bicycle wheels.

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  34. Lawrence Hakiwai (119 comments) says:

    The high-water mark for this nonsense was back in the 90s.

    You may or may not remember the centenary of women’s suffrage in New Zealand in 1993.

    It was decided to refer to Kate Sheppard and her mates as “suffragists”, and not use the term “suffragettes” that the movement itself used. The logic of marking a very gender specific moment in history with a non-gender specific term still escapes me. Maybe they didn’t want anyone confused with the battle for MEN to vote.

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  35. racer1 (354 comments) says:

    “Kris K

    Has anyone else noticed that on TV/radio news items that often when someone speaks on behalf of a group/organisation if it is a woman they are referred to as ’spokewoman’, whereas a man is referred to as ’spokeperson’ and very seldom ’spokesman’? Just seems a little inconsistant to me.”

    No, and I am fairly observant, maybe it is just your paranoia?

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  36. Crusader (279 comments) says:

    I was once shoulder tapped to be the chairperson of a particular organisation. I said I would be willing to be the chairman, but never the chairperson. So I was.

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  37. ginkgo (1 comment) says:

    The atom is made up of protons, neutrons and electrons.

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  38. jack chatham (1 comment) says:

    As a lifelong waiter I find the term waitron very offensive

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