Mentee, Mentoree, Meant what?

Language use is a living contest for the expression of ideas. One such contest follows, but who will prevail?

A friend of mine recently disparagingly commented on a mentoring program for their use of the word “mentee”.

To quote: “You’d think a mentoring program would know there’s no such word.”

For those of you thinking I’m being needlessly fastidious and that I’m going to say the word ought to be mentoree, you’d be wrong, as mentoree is not a word either.

what?

It’s true. Both of these constructs reflect the same kind of grammatical over extension toddlers make when they say things like swammed or runned.

It’s as if people have searched through their recollections of word forms and dragged out good old:

  • addressor/addressee
  • departor/departee
  • abductor/abductee

and applied it to mentor.

Well, what’s wrong with that?

It is the nature of the verb that guides the usage of this language form.

In the above examples the or ending words are the doers, and the ee ending words are acted upon, but this is all predicated upon there being a verb there in the first instance:

  • to address
  • to depart
  • to abduct

Let me make this clear. In no way is there a verb to ment .  Meaning that we could have a mentor as one who ments, and a mentee as one who is mented.

The verb form of mentor is, unfortunately, to mentor.

Why is this?

Mentor isn’t a construct like  addressor or adbuctor, instead it comes from Greek mythology. Mentor was Odysseus’s trusted counselor. Indeed Odysseus made Mentor guardian to his son Telemachus, when Odysseus set off to fight the Trojan War. It’s a really cool story. Look it up.

So, what to do?

If you cared enough, you’d be careful about how you called someone in a mentoring relationship. You could say, for example:

  • Mentor and Student
  • Mentor and Young Artist
  • Mentor and Aspiring Teacher

Or my favourite:

Mentor and Telemachus.

Crisis averted.

Ridicule is permitted.

UPDATE March 2nd 2013 –  New blog post: Mentee, Mentoree, Meant Something After All –  on this topic capturing some of the comments below and speaking to the problems of style.

UPDATE July 12th 2013 – New blog post: Mentee, Mentoree – Ngram – Final Word – for those desperate for a “correct” answer.

Author: Glen J Player

I’m a writer, activist, runner and art lover. I’m currently writing a novel. Here I’ll be musing on story, myth, language, art and politics. All opinions on this blog are my own.

19 thoughts on “Mentee, Mentoree, Meant what?”

  1. Yet the word “mentee” is a legitimate English word which you can find in the Webster dictionary and the word “mentoree” is not.

  2. Heh; got here trying to figure out what to call the Telemachii in our program–something besides “emerging scholars”, but “mentee” is so clearly incorrect… I think that you’re right about all this, but I think we’ll end up going with mentee anyway. Ah well.

  3. In my day, it was simply ‘mentor’ (or even ‘master’) and ‘protege’ … ‘master’ of course is now socially unacceptable.

  4. After reading the article and comments, I’m a bit lost. It seems like the argument was abandoned, resulting in an erroneous conclusion.

    Based on the logic in the article regarding the verb being the controlling factor, the proper verb — to mentor — would seem to produce a proper new noun — mentoree.

    Despite being in the dictionary, “mentee” is wrong for the same reasons that “mentoree” is defensibly correct.

    Finally, just as mentee ended up in the dictionary based on usage alone, usage of mentoree can achieve the same level of propriety. As common usage is increasing, that may happen yet.

  5. I think my conclusion – if any – was to avoid using either of the constructs (or perhaps this is my conclusion only now after two years of thinking about it).

    Honestly (and despite it following the proper verb, yes indeed you’re quite right on your point) I’m not a big fan of mentoree. Why? Because I don’t like the verb form “to mentor” as it doesn’t follow the initial pattern I outlined above.

    Strangely if the verb form “to ment” did infact exist perhaps I could be brought around on mentee.

    Lastly, thanks so much for your thoughtful response, you certainly got me thinking (all over again) – which now that I reflect on it was probably the reason I wrote this in the first instance.

    As always I’ll leave it to your best judgement in how to proceed in your writing.

  6. I’m encountering the same issue. I agree with anotheridea’s view, and would add the many inflections of “mentor” are legitimate and common: mentor, mentored, mentoring, mentors. So “mentor” is a verb. Given that, one has to realize that the noun “or” ending is not an agent suffix, since “ment” is not a verb. In fact, “mentorer”, which is a proper use of the agent suffix, is a recognized noun. So it is reasonable that “mentoree” should also be legitimate.

    “Mentee” has caught on marginally (much as I dislike it) because people subconsciously mistook “mentor” as a ment-er.

    I vote to strike it from all history!

  7. Protégé means “protected” in French. The way I have learned to mentor, I do not protect the people I mentor. The professionals I work with are not necessarily “young” or “aspiring,” either. I don’t feel comfortable calling them “students,” either, because I am not teaching them. None of the other options above fit peer-to-peer mentoring, either.

    I am really at a loss for a better word than mentee. I don’t like it, from an historical or grammatical standpoint, but what is a better alternative? Some options I’ve thought of are trainee and client. I don’t really like either of those, either, because a mentor doesn’t necessarily “train” someone, and “client” sounds too, well, clinical. In the interpreter mentor program I just joined, the trainer suggested “mentor/interpreter,” but it doesn’t make sense for me to call the person I’m mentoring “my interpreter.” The only option that makes any sense to me at all is “client,” but, again, it doesn’t make sense to call the person I mentor “my client.” Urgh.

    Any other ideas???

  8. One other thought, Glen: You mentioned: “Mentor was Odysseus’s trusted counselor. Indeed Odysseus made Mentor guardian to his son Telemachus…” Wouldn’t that make Odysseus the counterpart of Mentor? That would make sense, because Mentor was Odysseus’s “trusted counselor,” and a mentor can be more of a trusted counselor than a guardian. The counterpart of guardian would be protégé, which is what Talamacchus was, but the counterpart of trusted counselor would be… trusting client? If I don’t call my mentee “my client,” maybe I could call her “my Odysseus.” I’ll have to see what she thinks about that. 😉

  9. I am unfamiliar with blogs and how they work, but I came across this fascinating conversation while trying to find out if mentoree was a word (and yes, I followed the toddler thought process of grammatical overextension :-). Here’s what I found: you’re such a beautiful writer! I’m obsessed with English and grammar and this is just a wonderful thing to conversate about. How do I “follow along”, as some people say? Is this a a blog on English grammar and is there a way for me to “subscribe” to it?

    1. @lillian1122 firstly thank you so much for your kind compliment. I understand your obsession, as I am also fascinated by language usage and in particular good writing practice, and agree that it is as you say “a wonderful thing to conversate about”. (I love this verb by the way, conversate, it seems to imply something grander then to merely converse)

      Unfortunately I don’t have a subscribe button, though whenever I write something new, I generally tweet it. I may look into getting some kind of subscribe as well. In the mean time thanks so much. Glen.

  10. I prefer mentorite, emphasizing the future aspirations of the learner to become as impressive as a meteor in the night sky!

  11. I work in communications at a university and see “mentee” frequently. Hate it. I’m writing now because I am faced with putting it on a web page and wanted to verify whether it really was a word.

    I feel the same way about “mentee” as I do about “liaise”. Like the mentor/ment question, “liaise” is a term created from an erroneous assumption about the origin of the word “liaison”.

    1. Hi Zee, I understand your frustration. Unfortunately mentee does seem to be a word, brought into the lexicon via usage. And yes, on usage alone mentee is the word of choice. I’ll be doing a blog post on this in the coming weeks. However I recommend you find an alternative. There’s been a couple of lovely suggestions in the comments above. Glen

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