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Mentee, Mentoree, Meant what?

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.

Published inBlogSlippery Words