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Bachelorette is a term used in American English for a single, unmarried woman. The term is derived from the word bachelor, and is often used by journalists, editors of popular magazines, and some individuals. "Bachelorette" was famously the term used to refer to female contestants on the old The Dating Game TV show. A TV show entitled "The Bachelorette" is also featured on the network ABC.
In older English, the female counterpart term to "bachelor" was "spinster". However, this has acquired negative connotations and mostly been abandoned. When used now, it tends to imply that the woman has never been married and is too old to find a husband and have children. A bachelorette may have previously been in a relationship.
The term is not used in British English and there is no direct equivalent. However it is widely understood in the UK as a result of its use in US media, and particularly in reality TV shows aimed at a young audience.
The more proper neologism would be bacheloress, since the -ess suffix is the standard English suffix denoting a female subject, while -ette is a French-origin diminutive suffix, mainly used to something is smaller in size. However, in American English the -ess suffix is only marginally morphologically productive, and the -ette suffix can indicate a feminine version of a noun without a change in size (though many such words in -ette were intended to be jocular when they were first coined). The -ess suffix is also slowly falling into disuse in the English language due to attempts to neutralize professional terms; it is therefore less commonly applied to new terms nowadays.
Reasons for use
The traditional English term for a woman who has never married is a spinster, while a woman who is divorced is a divorcée, and a woman whose spouse has died is a widow. All three of these terms have carried negative cultural connotations at one time or another. "Spinster" often implied that the woman was older than the age when most women traditionally marry and that she would probably never marry; a more derogatory term was "old maid". Failing to marry was often looked down upon in many cultures. The term "widow" may be associated with an older woman (although a married woman can be widowed at any time). A "divorcée" or a "widow" is also assumed to be no longer a virgin. In some cultures, men are unwilling to marry a woman who is not a virgin.
More recently, a young person (male or female) who has never been married is said to be "single" or "never married".
Among millennials, the term "bachelorette" can imply a woman who is a "spinster-by-choice" and lives free of marriage. The stereotype forged is one counterpart to the term "bachelor", and the woman is seen as living by herself with a stable career and good health.
- "A woman still unmarried; esp. one beyond the usual age of marriage, an old maid" — definition 2b, entry "Spinster", OED 1st edition.
- The dictionary definition of bachelorette at Wiktionary