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The letter s.
American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition. Copyright © 2016 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
1. the letter S, s.
2. something shaped like an S.
a suffix forming distinctively feminine nouns: countess; goddess; lioness.
[Middle English -esse < Old French < Late Latin -issa < Greek]
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.
Random House Kernerman Webster's College Dictionary, © 2010 K Dictionaries Ltd. Copyright 2005, 1997, 1991 by Random House, Inc. All rights reserved.