- -etteis a suffix corresponding to an Old French form -ette and is found in English (mostly from the 19c) in four types of noun, either as an active suffix or as part of a word adopted from French:1. diminutive words, e.g. chemisette (= a small chemise, 1807), cigarette (= small cigar, 1842), novelette (= a short novel, 1820), pipette (= a small pipe, 1839), statuette (= a small statue, 1843). Formations of the 20c include kitchenette (= a small kitchen, 1910), launderette (which is not just a diminutive but means a special kind of self-service laundry, 1949), diskette (= a small computer disk), superette (= a small supermarket, chiefly AmE and Australian, 1938). In some words, such as launderette and serviette (originally Scottish, and reintroduced into standard English in the 19c: see U and non-U), -ette is not strictly a diminutive, but is best considered in this category.2. feminine words, a usage launched in a spectacular way with the word suffragette (1906), a female supporter of, and active campaigner for, women's right to vote. No word of this kind coined since has had the same resonance. The American scholar H. L. Mencken (writing in 1921) noted the appearance of a string of ephemeral formations including conductorette and farmerette, but the only one to attain any permanent currency was usherette (1925):
• What the hell are you holding that torch for as if you were a bloody usherette? —A. N. Wilson, 1990.This, together with undergraduette (1919, and see below) and majorette (AmE, in drum majorette, 1938), represent a distinct anticlimax after a promising start. A trickle of trivial words continued in the post-war years, until the suffix was taken up by male chauvinist magazine writers in the 1980s to form depreciatory and often hostile terms for women such as bimbette, hackette, snoopette, undergraduette (a revival of the 1919 word), whizzette, and even womanette. None of these has achieved any continuing currency. Only ladette from the 1990s (‘a young woman who behaves in a boisterously assertive or crude manner’ —COD 2006) looks likely to survive in real usage.3. names of fabrics, some but not all imitations of something else, e.g. muslinette (1787, the first recorded), leatherette (1880), flannelette (1882), stockingette (1824, now more usually written as stockinet), and winceyette (1922, a lightweight cotton fabric for nightclothes, from wincey, itself an alteration of woolsey in linsey-woolsey).4. names of commercial foods. Trade names such as Clubettes (small crackers), Creamettes (a type of pasta), Croutettes (a stuffing mix), and Toastettes (a kind of tart) —all possibly modelled on croquette, a term of French origin for a fried roll of potato or meat —were popular in America in the 1990s but now sound dated.
Modern English usage. 2014.