A masseur is a man whose job is to give massages. It comes from the French verb, masser, which means "to massage." The words masseur (male) and masseuse (female) were in common use in North America by the end of the 19th century, supplanting the previously favored "medical gymnast."
The understanding was that masseurs and masseuses were trained in the medical sciences and had highly developed skill sets, according to Patricia J. Benjamin, Ph.D., L.M.T., a massage therapist and educator who has been researching and writing about the history of massage for three decades.
"The use of French terms gave the practice a European and upmarket flare," she says. "The occupation of masseuse became a legitimate and upright one for women in Victorian times, often linked with the nurse, providing a respectable means of livelihood outside of the home. Masseurs worked in a variety of venues, chiefly health-related and athletic settings."
There was no official accreditation, however, and mere "rubbers" -- people without any training -- began calling themselves masseurs and masseuses. And, just as today in some "spas," proclaiming yourself to be a masseur or masseuse became a cover for prostitution, leading to the seedy reputation of "massage parlors."
Today masseur is considered an old-fashioned word, and most professionally trained men and women call themselves licensed massage therapists. Spas also use the word massage therapist.
Common Misspellings: massuer