(Greek -issa > Late Latin -issa > Old French -esse > Middle English -esse: a suffix that forms nouns meaning a female +++, as in lioness, tigress, heiress, hostess, and sculptress)

When -ess is added to a noun ending in -tor, -ter, the vowel before r is generally elided (eliminated or left out), as in actress (actor + -ess); and such a derivative with the ending -tress (often equivalent to French ) is usually considered a reduced form of Latin -trix, -tricem and popularly regarded as the equivalent of -tor + -ess.

In Middle English many words in -esse were adopted from French; such as, countess, duchess, mistress, and princess, or formed on nouns in -er; such as, enchantress and sorceress.

—Based on information presented in
The Barnhart Dictionary of Etymology, Robert K. Barnhart, Editor;
The H.W. Wilson Company; Bronxville, New York; 1988; page 343.

The suffix -ess is diminishing from English usage, with trends or tendencies toward avoiding any unnecessary references to gender or sexual categorizing (feminine or masculine.

The suffixes -er and -or are no longer gender-specific in modern English: an author or manager, like a doctor or writer, may be male or female, so the words authoress and manageress are considered redundant.

Some -ess words remain in use; for example, heiress and actress, although actor is being used more often now for both men and women.

1. A woman who is a peer.
2. The wife or widow of a peer.
pilgrimess (s) (noun), pilgrimesses (pl)
A female pilgrim: In the story Alice read, there were many pilgrimesses all traveling together towards their religious shrine.
postmistress (s) (noun), postmistresses (pl)
A woman who is in charge of a mail delivery service establishment: Pam's sister worked as the postmistress in the post office in her small town.
prioress (s) (noun), prioresses (pl)
1. A nun in charge of a priory or ranking next below the abbess of an abbey.
2. A religious house governed by a prior or prioress, often dependent upon an abbey.
prophetess (s) (noun), prophetesses (pl)
1. A woman who speaks by divine inspiration or as the interpreter through whom the will of a god is expressed.
2. A woman predictor or a woman soothsayer.
3. The chief spokeswoman of a movement or a cause.
A woman who seduces.
sorceress (s) (noun), sorceresses (pl)
Usually a woman who practices witchcraft: The common image of a sorceress is of an old woman with a crooked hat, a long nose, a broom, and a black cat and who can use magical powers that are believed to be obtained through evil spirits.
A witch who has magical powers.
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sordidness (s) (noun), sordidnesses (pl)
Unworthiness by virtue of lacking higher values; baseness, contemptibility: The children moved out of their home as soon as possible because of the sordidness and despicableness of their parents lives.