Emeritus or emerita?
Professor Emerita is a common designation for a female professor on whom the title is bestowed (4). Arne Torp, Professor of Nordic Languages, therefore caused something of a stir when some years ago he claimed that «professor emerita» was a grammatical abomination, in Norwegian as well as in Latin, and that the designation therefore was better left unused (5, 6). If we were to mark the gender of a female professor, she should properly be referred to as profestrix. A retired female professor would then be referred to as a «profestrix emerita», Torp claimed. However, neither «profestrix» nor «profestrix emerita» have been widely used (4), and others claim that in Latin, it is quite possible to imagine the construction «professor emerita» (7).
Nobody disagrees that the Latin noun professor is grammatically masculine, and a feminine counterpart does not exist in the world of language. «These days, however, there are scores of female professors, and we refer to them as professors without any pangs of linguistic conscience,» Finn-Erik Vinje, retired Professor of Nordic Languages, writes in his blog (8). «The word ‘professor’ has become gender-neutral, which is the way of language: the words remain, but their content shifts in pace with development. For emeritus, Latin has a masculine and a feminine form. The ancient Romans gave the epithet ‘emerita’ to a woman who had left office,» according to Vinje (8).
However, Vinje continues: «Professor emerita is not perfect, and may grate on the ears of some linguistically sensitive Latinists. Here, there is no correspondence between the attribute and the main word: the adjective (the participle) is feminine and the noun masculine. Nevertheless, if we are to socialise with female professors and address and designate them, there is no other alternative: a retired female professor must be a professor emerita» (8).
So the controversy involves two standpoints. Whether «professor emerita» should be deemed correct or not depends on the criterion to be given the greatest weight. On the one hand are those who point out that «professor emerita» is incorrect Latin (5, 6). This is true if we have dead Latin in mind, i.e. the existing body of texts in Latin dating from before a certain year, which provides the documentation basis for our Latin dictionaries. Others claim that we are not forced to stick to such a delimitation (7). With equal merit, they may claim that «professor emerita» is acceptable Latin – in this particular context.