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Mentee, Mentoree – Ngram – Final Word

Finally the final word. 

This is a follow up to two previous posts:

  1. Mentee, Mentoree, Meant What? and
  2. Mentee, Mentoree, Meant something after all,

… where I finally give into the prevailing tide.

With the ongoing conversation on the usage of Mentee vs Mentoree it occurred to me that there is a measure that will allow us to get a sense on usage.

Usage after all is one of the great arbitrators of nomenclature.

Google Ngrams is a fascinating project that was developed out of the Google books project.

A considerable amount of number crunching was done of all of the words (some 500 billion of them) that were scanned by google from a range of books dating back several centuries. Specifically the researchers catalogued the frequency of occurrence of important words and phrases. Ted has a fascinating talk were they explain how they did this.

My suspicion is that this is the best open access resource we have to track the history of word usage. The accuracy of this tool as a measure of real historical usage is difficult to lock down. Any systematic error would be a factor of the number and types of books that Google scanned in, in comparison to the number and types of books that are in existence. My suspicion is that if there is a systematic error prevailing this data it will be a small one. So that if we see a big difference in usage between Mentee and Mentoree we can safely assume a preferred usage.

The Results

So, despite all my objections and to join the common purpose of understanding, which is after all the point of language, Mentee it is.

The people have spoken (or in the case, written).

Mentee, Mentoree – Meant something after all

This post is a continuation to a blog post I made back in January 2011.

Mentee, Mentoree – Meant What?

Please read this first and the comments to come up to speed. I’ll be referring to comments through the rest of this post.

Firstly, thanks so much for all your thoughtful comments over the years.

I’ve been having a read back through these comments and my original post, made some two years ago, and feel content to arrive at a solution for my own usage, which is perhaps all we can ever hope to do. The two common options both feel difficult and unhelpful:

Mentee

Despite it’s common usage, mentee sits wrong with me for the reasons in my original post. Being that there is no verb form “to ment”. And despite it having the validity of being it being in the dictionary (as JD points out July 21st, 2011, 2:31 pm), this argument has never really held water with me. The idea is to write the best one can, not just to follow what ever one else is doing. In a comment above I had briefly resigned myself to the usage of mentee as yet another exception in the English language, but I’m feeling less generous today.

Mentoree

Mentoree, likewise, I appreciate the comments made by anotheridea (May 22nd, 2012, 10:34pm) and TimBT (Oct 4th, 2012, 8:29am) and indeed TimBT is quite persuasive however I can’t quite bring myself over to the usage of mentoree.

As TimBT describes “to mentor” is a proper verb form, to have mentoree you’d also need to have mentorer, which as he argues is a proper noun form (though the dictionary entry is a little confusing). Only it’s not a common usage noun form. Indeed one does not see mentoring programs calling of mentorers and mentorees (or at least not to my knowledge). Indeed the noun mentor is so widely used that I can’t see any hope of mentorer catching on. And I think I know why.

There is an argument against this grammatically correct word pair form based on style and aesthetics. Indeed good writing style is about clarity and serving the reader; unfortunately the similarity of the words mentorer and mentoree make them clumsy and prone to confusion. That there is already a common and correct usage of mentor as the noun only serves to increase confusion and do a disservice to the reader.

Something Else

As I was getting at in my original post, this is my preferred solution.

I had suggested using Mentor and a title equivalent to the work they do, eg Mentor  and Student, Mentor and Young Teacher. However this kind of approach can have it’s problems as well, as Daniel Greene points out in his comment (Feb 27th 2013, 4:17pm) when mentoring in a program for young interpreters it makes no sense to say Mentor and Interpreter.

In my original post I had also suggested, Mentor and Telemachus, as a reference to the Greek Myth from which the word Mentor is derived as a “favourite.” I had suggested Telemachus primarily to open people’s minds to the possibilities out there. Daniel Greene in the comments (Mar 2nd,  2013, 11:18am) has returned the favour. I am equally inspired by his notion of the mentoring relationship actually happening between Mentor and Odysseus. Here is Daniel’s comment in full:

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.

Indeed the suggestion that Daniel makes above to call his mentee “my Odysseus” feels to me like it has the right amount of potential and positive association. However it doesn’t quite fit with the Myth, wherein the Goddess Athena took the form of Mentor so as to give advice to the young Telemachus. That said, I actually like the usage of Mentor Odysseus to describe this relationship. They did have a preexisting relationship before Odysseus traveled to the Trojan War and subsequent adventure on his return home. And this speaks to the sort of relationship I imagine exists between a mentor and mentee. The mentor advising and guiding so that the mentee may travel and be the stuff of legend.

NEW BLOG POST July 12th 2013

Mentee, Mentoree – Ngram – Final Word

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.