Tag Archives: brewsters

What’s a brewster? No, you’re wrong …

Or at least you’re not as right as you think you are. I, too, used to believe that “brewster” meant, exclusively, a female brewer, until a discussion recently on the excellent wordorigins site about the word spinster. Someone put up the Oxford English Dictionary entry on the –ster suffix which revealed that it wasn’t as simple as I had thought:

In northern M(iddle) E(nglish), perh. owing to the frequent adoption by men of trades like weaving, baking, tailoring, etc., the suffix [-ster] came very early to be used, indiscriminately with -ER, as an agential ending irrespective of gender…
It is probable that “-ster” was often preferred to “-er” as more unambiguously referring to the holder of a professional function, as distinguished from the doer of an occasional act. In Scotland, baxter and webster survived as masculines down to the 19th c. …
In the south the suffix continued to be predominantly feminine throughout the M(iddle) E(nglish) period. The Old English formations, baxter, seamster, tapster, were in southern English usually feminine before 1500 … also spinster, which alone of the group has survived (though with change of sense) solely as a feminine…

In other words, if you see “brewster” in a Southern English context in the Middle Ages, it probably means a female brewer, but in the North of England and Scotland it could be female, it might just as likely be a male.

Continue reading What’s a brewster? No, you’re wrong …