Word Watch: mentor/mentee/manatee?

Manatee - a word that is uncomfortably similar to "mentee"  •  Credit: Nicolas Larento

Manatee – a word that is uncomfortably similar to “mentee” • Credit: Nicolas Larento

File under “too close for comfort.”

I have never liked the word “mentee” as the name of the recipient of another’s mentoring. Too close to “manatee.”

I was put in mind of it again when Dr. Lucy Ferriss (PhD), writing in Lingua Franca, a blog of  The Chronicle of Higher Education, opined recently about whether “mentor” is a noun or a verb.

Dr. Ferris, who is also writer in residence at Trinity College in Connecticut, wrote that she has been a mentor for years. “But it was not until I began a writing project this year that has brought me deep into the fields of business and finance that I started hearing mentor and mentee at every turn.

“I confess publicly here, and with no small amount of shame, that these terms irritate me, as if someone’s placing a guiding hand on the back of my neck every time either of them comes up.”

“Mentor” was once a person — or a character anyway, in Greek mythology, a point from which she goes into the verb/noun/both? debate, she notes.

She never weighs in on “mentee” specifically, but her commenters do. One asks, Why not “protégé” instead of mentee? The reply: “It is too complicated since it has three [syllables] and diacritical marks.”

Another commenter notes “the word mentee suggests that there is a verb, ‘to ment.’ If mentor is a verb, probably the person on the receiving end of the process is the mentoree.”

Then Nancy Friedman, who describes herself as “chief wordworker of Wordworking, a name developer, corporate copywriter, and recovering journalist,” declared, “Save the manatees!”

Indeed — and I suspect few “mentees” would want to be confused with manatees.~TM

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