Masterclasses and Mistressclasses: a letter to the Australian Anthropological Society


I sent the following to the AAS email-loop last week. It was happily, nay cheerily received . . . because anthropologists are best.



Dear all,


I would like to propose that we henceforth replace the term ‘Masterclass’ (as in “you are all invited to an anthropological Masterclass on such-and-such-a-topic led by the eminent scholar such-and-such”) with the term ‘Mistressclass,’ wherever the former might usually appear . . . . Not because the latter term is more fitting or descriptive (one would hope not) but because it might kindly elbow Masterclass in the ribs. Which would be fitting.




1. chiefly historical a man who has people working for him, especially servants or slaves: he acceded to his master’s wishes
2. a man in charge of an organization or group, in particular: British a male schoolteacher: the games master etcetera, etcetera.
3. a skilled practitioner of a particular art or activity: I’m a master of disguise
4. [usually in titles] a person who holds a second or further degree: a master’s degree
5. used as a title prefixed to the name of a boy not old enough to be called ‘Mr’: Master James Wishart
– archaic a title for a man of high rank or learning.


1. having or showing very great skill or proficiency
– denoting a person skilled in a particular trade and able to teach others.


1. acquire complete knowledge or skill in (a subject, technique, or art): I never mastered Latin
2. gain control of; overcome: I managed to master my fears.


1. as a noun
Late O.E. mægester ‘one having control or authority,’ from L. magister (n.) ‘chief, head, director, teacher’ (source of O.Fr. maistre, French maître, Spanish and Italian maestro, Portuguese mestre, Dutch meester, German Meister), contrastive adjective (‘he who is greater’)


2. as a verb
Early 13c., ‘to get the better of,’ from master (n.) and also from O.Fr. maistrier, from M.L. magistrare. Meaning ‘to reduce to subjugation’ is early 15c.; that of ‘to acquire complete knowledge’ is from 1740s.


It’s got everything hierarchy, subjugation (+’race’ and gender exclusivity) galore! There are, of course, ‘less problematic’ definitions/uses of the term (among the more) but I am yet to come across a ‘less’ that does not in some way derive meaning from the all of more.


Whenever I come across the term ‘Masterclass’ I am reminded of once upon a time my brother ‘correcting’ my use of the affectionate ‘title’/term of endearment ‘Grey Beard,’ to refer to senior/longstanding/respected Professors, with the less endearing term/title ‘Silver Back.’ Not terribly nice (and wholly out of line with my intended meaning/use of the term) but funny. And productive in some important way I think.



Kind Regards,





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