"Bachelorette" is a term often applied to an unwed female
. It is derived from "bachelor
," which is used to refer to an unmarried male. Wordsmith
s apparently arrived at "bachelorette" by compounding "bachelor" with the supposedly universal feminine suffix
"-ette." (See also: dudette
It is widely estimated that, while the term's exact origin is unknown (some sources estimate that it originated in 1935), it became popular because of The Newlywed Game, where single female contestants were referred to as "bachelorettes." One source claims that the original term for an unmarried woman was "bachelor girl."
Some problems have arisen due to associating gender roles with these terms. "Bachelor" originally referred to a knight or squire in training, and thus at the first stage of his career. It later came to apply to unmarried men because they were in the first stage of their adult lives. Throughout the 20th century (especially with the advent of bachelor pads and bachelor parties. the term came to be explicitly associated with men, rightly or wrongly.
It eventually became popular to refer to unmarried women as "bachelorettes" because, as noted earlier, "-ette" was seen as a more modern feminine suffix than the previously used "-ess." Wikipedia notes that the proper feminine version of "bachelor" should indeed be bacheloress, though this is rarely (if ever) used. Some women have attempted to bring "bacheloress" into the public consciousness because "-ette" is often interpreted and defined as not only being feminine, but also diminutive -- see kitchenette. As well one-room apartments are sometimes referred to as bachelor apartments; bachelorette apartments are one-room apartments that are very small.
Unlike "bachelor," "bachelorette" does not exist in the world of academia. A bachelors degree is usually the first post-secondary degree an individual receives, thus putting them in the first stage of their post-secondary education. There is no distinction between male and female degree-earners in terms of bachelors degrees, as the term is here intended to be gender neutral.
This has not meant that there has not been any controversy regarding perceived sexism in terms of degree nomenclature, however. I know at least one person who has lobbied the government to allow graduating students to choose whether they wish to receive a bachelors degree or a baccalaureate degree. They mean the same thing and are even derived from the same Latin root, but the English translation is associated with one gender over the other.
While "bachelorette" is rarely used with the same frequency that "bachelor" is, many women are still faced with the term right before they get married.