Patron and Matron

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As Latin scholars may recognize, patron and matron are cognate with the Latin words for “mother” and “father.” However, their senses, and those of inflectional forms of these words, extend beyond the immediately family.

Patron, which means “sponsor” or “supporter,” ultimately derives from the Latin term pater, meaning “father,” but the senses of its intermediate form, patronus, are “bestower,” “lord,” and “master” as well as “model” and “pattern.” (Pattern, as a matter of fact, stems from patron, the identical French forebear of the English word.) Because of the diversity of definitions, a patron can be a wealthy philanthropist who supports an artistic endeavor or a social cause or a mere customer of a business establishment. The similar-looking term patroon, a Dutch variation on the French word, denotes in historical American English usage a landholder in Dutch colonial territories in what is now the northeastern United States.

Patronage applies in either sense to the act of being a patron. Likewise, patronize has a dual meaning: In its positive connotation, it simply describes being a customer, but it also has the pejorative sense of “condescend,” or “look down on,” from the notion of a person of higher social status arrogantly regarding someone of supposedly inferior standing.

Two words that contain the letter sequence seen in patron but are descended directly from pater are patronym (literally, “father’s name”) and patronymic (literally, “from the father’s name”); the latter is both a noun and an adjective.

Matron, from the Latin word mater by way of matron, meaning “married woman,” also has modern senses that deviate from its familial origins: The word now signifies a woman with a mature demeanor and high social status, though the adjective matronly derogatorily suggests someone of a certain age and a certain bulk. In a wedding party, however, a married maid of honor is called a matron of honor regardless of age or size. Historically, a female supervisor in a public institution such as a prison or a school was called a matron, and in animal husbandry, a matron is the female equivalent of a stud.

Matronym and matronymic are the female equivalents of patronym and patronymic.

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