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Bitch is one of the most complicated insults in the English language. A bitch typically means a lewd, malicious, irritating woman the comparison being to a dog in heatbut some women self-identify as bitches to indicate they are strong, assertive and independent.
A son of a bitch is generally a despicable or otherwise hateful man, but can also mean a dear friend who has done something impressive or clever. Bitch might have originally meant a female dog, but now it can indicate anything from slapstick humor to scathing insult.
The rise of bitch through history can be traced to 4 distinct periods: The last 3 can be tied to specific events in American feminism.
Neither Google nor I claim this database to be complete, but as it has over 15 million titles it is sufficiently representative of English publications for this analysis] I: The Definition Insulting a woman by calling her a female dog pre-dates the existence of the word bitch itself.
The English language historian Geoffrey Hughes suggests the connection came about because of the Greek goddess of the hunt, Artemis Diana in the Roman pantheon who was often portrayed with a pack of hunting dogs and sometimes transformed into an animal herself. In Ancient Greece and Rome the comparison was a sexist slur equating women to dogs in heat, sexually depraved beasts who grovel and beg for men1.
Its use as an insult was propagated into Old English by the Christian rulers of the Dark Age to suppress the idea of femininity as sacred.
The phrase evolved to mean a generally despicable or otherwise hateful man. Shakespeare, that master of verbal barbs, uses the insult twice in his plays. Interestingly, nowhere in his collected works does Shakespeare ever use the word to insult a woman.
At first, one might think this reveals a chivalrous objection to insulting women — but a similar search for whore reveals five pages of results. As a playwright known for his imaginative and numerous insults, his omission of bitch as a female insult indicates something about the common usage of the word in his time.
In fact, much of the documented usage of the word from the 16th and 17th centuries is in reference to a man, not a woman. In faith, I know, he is a witch. While the word by itself may have described a female entity, its abusive power at the end of the Middle Ages lied in its application to a man — not only putting him down by calling him a woman, but further dehumanizing by equating him with a dirty female animal.
The 18th century saw a return to the original insulting meaning of bitch. Indeed, use of the insult grew so dominant that it finally forced the literal meaning of the word, that of female dog, out of common circulation. The usage of bitch held steady for the next years. At the cusp of the 20th century, Slang and its Analogues gave a succinct definition and partial history of the term5.
It has long since passed out of decent usage. The Rise The first serious rise in the usage of bitch begins at — exactly the same year as another feminist milestone in the United States: The 19th amendment to the US constitution was ratified on August 18th, After decades of struggle, women finally received the right to vote.
But as women became more public, so too did their critics. Now that women were appearing more and more on the American stage, the insult bitch began to slip slowly into popular discourse. Through the years this trend continues — in fact, by references to the word as an insult to a woman outnumber the references to a female dog.
The answer lies in the connotation of the insult itself. Of the publications from this period, the uses of bitch can be grouped into three categories of meaning: Malicious or consciously attempting to harm Difficult, annoying, or interfering Sexually brazen or overly vulgar These three traits combined form a perfect picture of the angry 1st wave feminist that many suffragist opponents feared, a kind of anti-lady.
The dystopia predicted by those opponents, both men and women, is summed up well in remarks made by a Representative from Alabama in There will be no more domestic tranquility in this nation. Suffrage will destroy the best thing in our lives and leave in our hearts an aching void that the world can never fill.
There had to be a name for these women. The Reclamation The popularity of bitch dipped slightly around the late 30s and early 40s, possibly due to an increase of chivalry and respect towards the women who played an important part in the war effort or just because everyone had better things to write about.
After the war, use of the word popped back up and continued steadily until around when it experienced a sudden rise in use. Again we see a correlation with a significant change in the feminist movement.tranceformingnlp.com Essay Collection and Other Short Pieces [C.
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