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Ick! The -ix!

Whistling girls and crowing hens
Always come to some bad end.1

whistling.girlThey are decidedly odd to the modern eye, these words from an older time.

Administratrix.

Executrix.

They are even odder to the modern ear, if you ever hear them spoken aloud.

Oratrix.

Prosecutrix.

And even though The Legal Genealogist‘s younger kin accuse her of living in the past, even my now-ancient law school experience didn’t prepare me for dealing with these words from an older time.

Even to me, they look and sound weird.

Downright icky, that -ix ending.

But we encounter them all the time in older legal documents, so …

First off, the ending really isn’t -ix, it’s -trix:

a suffix occurring in loanwords from Latin, where it formed feminine nouns or adjectives corresponding to agent nouns ending in -tor, (Bellatrix). On this model, -trix, is used in English to form feminine nouns (aviatrix; executrix) and geometrical terms denoting straight lines ( directrix).

A suffix borrowed directly from Latin, -trix has been used since the 15th century on feminine agent nouns that correspond to a masculine (in Latin) or generic (in English) agent noun ending in -tor: aviator, aviatrix; legislator, legislatrix; orator, oratrix.2

And an agent noun, by the way, is “a noun denoting the doer of an action, as editor or jogger.”3

So in reality we should be dealing here with a woman of action, right? An oratrix, for example, is currently defined as “a woman who delivers an oration; a public speaker, especially one of great eloquence.”4

Um… no.

Because, as usual, the law has its own set of definitions. So when you come across these words in a dusty old court record, keep in mind that even the underlying term (orator, for a male) may have meant something different when used in a legal context.

But so that you won’t have to go off looking for just the right definition, here’s your cheat sheet of common terms ending in -trix that you’re likely to encounter in legal documents:

Actrix. “Lat. A female actor; a female plaintiff.”5

Administratrix. “A female who administers, or to whom letters of administration have been granted.”6

Creditrix. “A female creditor.”7

Curatrix. “A woman who has been appointed to the office of curator; a female guardian.”8

Disseisitrix. “A female disseisor; a disseisoress.”9

Emtrix. “In the civil law. A female purchaser; the purchaser.”10

Executrix. “A woman who has been appointed by will to execute such will or testament.”11

Inheretrix. “The old term for ‘heiress’.”12

Oratrix. “A female petitioner; a female plaintiff in a bill in chancery was formerly so called.”13

Pandoxatrix. “An ale-wife; a woman that both brewed and sold ale and beer.”14

Procuratrix. “In old English law. A female agent or attorney in fact.”15

Prosecutrix. “In criminal law. A female prosecutor.”16

Relatrix. “In practice. A female relator or petitioner.”17

Testatrix. “A woman who makes a will; a woman who dies leaving a will; a female testator.”18

Venditrix. “Lat. A female vendor.”19

Now excuse me please. I have an irresistable impulse to go whistle.


SOURCES

  1. Sylvester Judd, History of Hadley, … Massachusetts (Northampton, Mass. : Metcalf & Co., 1863), 381 n.*; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 23 Sep 2014).
  2. Dictionary.com Unabridged, Random House, Inc. (http://dictionary.reference.com/ : accessed 23 Sep 2014), “-trix.”
  3. Ibid., “agent noun.”
  4. Ibid., “oratrix.”
  5. Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 29, “actrix.”
  6. Ibid., 40, “administratrix.”
  7. Ibid., 300, “creditrix.”
  8. Ibid., 309, “curatrix.”
  9. Ibid., 377, “disseisitrix.” A disseisor is “One who puts another out of the possession of his lands wrongfully.” Ibid., “disseisor.”
  10. Ibid., 418, “emtrix.”
  11. Ibid., 457, “executrix.”
  12. Ibid., 622, “inheretrix.”
  13. Ibid., 854, “oratrix.”
  14. Ibid., 865, “pandoxatrix.”
  15. Ibid., 949, “procuratrix.”
  16. Ibid., 956, “prosecutrix.”
  17. Ibid., 1016, “relatrix.”
  18. Ibid., 1166, “testatrix.”
  19. Ibid., 1213, “venditrix.”
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