Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: suffragist; suffragette.

The broad term for a person who believes that a disenfranchised class of people should have the right to vote is “suffragist.” That term has been traced back to the early 19th century. In American English, it extends especially to women’s suffrage. “Suffragette” (referring specifically to any woman who participated in the movement to give women the right to vote) is not recorded before the first years of the 20th century. The diminutive suffix “-ette” was adopted by two groups that made strange bedfellows: the movement’s most scornful opponents and its most radical proponents. Today, many people still object to the term “suffragette” as sexist — e.g.: “‘My mother was a suffragette,’ she said in the opening line of Ken Burns’ documentary on the suffragists . . . . Her choice of words was surprising, said her daughter, Penelope Carter, of Rochester. ‘The word suffragette reminded her of the Rockettes,’ Ms. Carter said. ‘She was a suffragist.'” Douglas Martin, “Ruth Dyk, Champion of Women’s Suffrage, Dies at 99,” N.Y. Times, 26 Nov. 2000, § 1, at 57. Nevertheless, “suffragette” remains about twice as common in popular usage as “suffragist.” The terms are often used interchangeably (sometimes, as in the first example below, for inelegant variation) — e.g.: “Anti-suffragists feared voting rights would escort in the destruction of the American family, and many Southerners were suspicious of the Northerners who arrived to sway legislators. American suffragettes tended to be well-educated, well-heeled women of social stature, although the underprivileged and working classes actually gained the most by ratification.” Lisa A. DuBois, “The Perfect 36,” Variety, 13 May 1996, at 79. For information about the Language-Change Index click here. ——————– Quotation of the Day: “If a reader senses superfluity in your style, he will begin to skim and thus slip beyond your control, taking whatever his eye happens to light on as the cruxes of argument. On the other hand, if he finds your style compact or even dense, he can always read more slowly. [But] if you are too sparing of words, your prose will be simply cryptic and puzzling.” Thomas Cain, Common Sense About Writing 119 (1967).
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