- off aff. use a suffix forming distinctively feminine nouns:countess; goddess; lioness[/ex]•Etymology: ME -esse < OF < LL -issa < Gk usage: Since at least the 14th century, English has borrowed nouns with this feminine suffix from French (French -esse) and also applied that ending to existing words, most frequently agent nouns in -or or -er. Some of the earliest borrowings—noble or religious titles—still flourish, as princess, duchess, abbess, and prioress. The use of -ess words has declined sharply in the latter half of the 20th century. Among those words that are rarely used or are either rejected or discouraged in modern American English are ambassadress, ancestress, authoress, poetess, sculptress, and stewardess. Some nouns in -ess are still current: actress (but some women prefer actor); adventuress; enchantress; governess (only in its child-care sense); heiress (largely in journalistic writing); hostess (but women who conduct radio and television programs are hosts); millionairess; mistress (except in the sense of expert); murderess; postmistress (not in official U.S. government use); seamstress; seductress; sorceress; temptress; and waitress. Jewess and Negress are rarely used today and are generally considered offensive. See also -enne, -ette, -trix .
From formal English to slang. 2014.