OPINION: The English language owes much to today’s feminists

Let’s talk about feminist etymology.

Most of that noise in the background is the DeMeer men, groaning.

It is accompanied by synchronized eye rolling.

They have attended any number of impromptu lectures on the subject.

It’s a good topic to launch into if you want them to leave the room.

The softer, gentler noises are the sounds of many readers turning the page at the same time.

Feminist etymology. One woman’s favorite hobby is a screwdriver sticking in somebody else’s ear.

Feminist etymology. Does it sound any more interesting if we call it witches and plastereds?

Here is a hard truth. Most people, when they insult a man, end up skewering a woman instead.

Take the phrase Son of a BLANK. (Rhymes with witch.)

This is a common slur for a male person, yet it reveals nothing about the man on the receiving end. It is literally calling his mother a witch.

And honestly, how does she come into it?

The world BLANK functions the same way. (Rhymes with plastered.)

Calling a man a plastered does nothing to disparage him. It serves just to cast aspersions on his mommy’s marital state and morals.

Doesn’t seem fair.

Other common language and turns of phrase are equally hurtful.

Recently being interviewed by the Spotlight, someone made a statement beginning with the words: “The rule of thumb.”

The rule of thumb gets a lot of mileage.

While generally employed to mean the usual or the accepted practice, it is derived from English Common Law, which stated it was legal to beat your wife with any instrument not thicker than one’s thumb.


Pleased as Punch is another much-used phrase with horrible beginnings.

While today it is called on to indicate benign happiness, it originates from the Punch and Judy puppet shows. These shows date back to 16th century Italy, when the predictable storyline was for Punch to fall into a rage over something ridiculous and then murder Judy and their baby by beating them to death. And he was happy about it.

Good times.

There is a hostess of words that over time have been recast unflatteringly in an attempt to denigrate women.

Mistress, for example, was brought into the English language from French, after the Norman conquest.

It was simply the female equivalent of master, meaning a woman having control or authority.

Quickly it came to mean a woman having sex with someone who wasn’t her husband. How did THAT happen?

Governess has a similar past. In the 15th century a governess was acknowledged as a woman holding power. It took a couple of hundredyears but we eventually whittled that down to mean a woman who looks after small children.

People still vote for governors, though.

Hussy is a head shaker. In the 13th century a hussy was a woman who ran a household, a contraction of huswife. Today it’s only meaning is a loose woman, probably somebody’s mistress. See above.

There are a seemingly endless number of these words, and a person could go on, and on, and on.

Just ask the DeMeer masters, if you can find them.

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