Thursday 17 February 2011


Trix is a funny little suffix that only gets used occasionally. It means female, which is why a female aviator was an aviatrix, and why a female dominator is a dominatrix. I've heard the term editrix occasionally, but my favourite trix is a female hairdresser, who can be called a tonstrix.

Trix is also the reason that meretricious is such a confusing word, and so often misused. Meretricious sounds as though it should mean good and worthy, but in fact it means gaudy and flashy.

The reason for this oddness is that the Latin word mereo meant I deserve or I earn, and that's where we get merit from. However, a lady who earned was therefore called a meretrix, and, ancient Rome being what it was, there weren't that many ways that a lady could make a living besides prostitution, and that's what meretrix came to mean.

And from meretrix we got meretricious, which means tarted up.

Incidentally, what do you call a woman who can balance a pint of ale on her nose?



  1. I really like Bellatrix - female warrior - as well. Although I think it only popped into my head because it's the name of a character in Harry Potter...

  2. Maybe 'turning a trick' is an update on the Roman activity.

  3. Of course, a common euphemism for a prostitute is (or perhaps was) "working girl", so we weren't that much different from the ancient Romans.

  4. In fusty legal circles in the context of wills, testatrix, executrix and administratrix are all relatively common.