World of womanly words
We have come to terms in using terms that once implied different meanings.
When we approach the women’s world or their dressing room or dresses, we are close to where words must be used with care and caution. Actually we are entering the sphere of “euphemism”. Greek eu “well” and phemi “speak” is the art of giving pleasant names to things we regard as unpleasant.
A girl wears a ‘skirt’ but not a ‘shirt’. The word ‘skirt’ was an insult a hundred years ago. This breach of etiquette is not offencive today. It is still true that if a girl wears too short a skirt, she invites stares. Underwear has changed to ‘underthings’ and ‘undies’. ‘Lingerie’ is a lost way to get around the sartorial wall. It is proper that the feminine mind should select a vocabulary to suit its taste and that a daintier person- ality should choose its words with utmost care, because our words reveal who we are, whether brilliant or dunce, wise or nincompoop, cultured or coarse, impulsive or thoughtful.
A stranger starts passing judgement on us and starts evaluating us the moment we open our mouth to articulate. This works in reverse too – a stranger begins to speak and we start evaluating him.
When a girl ‘allures’ a boy, she is using the deceptive method of a hunter a ‘to’ and lure ‘bait’.
A courtesan, in the past, was a ‘decent’ lady of the court. Today, it is used in a low down manner. ‘Wench’ stood for child and ‘tart’ was a word of endearment, but these are now dethroned. They have lost their class and acquired unpleasantness.
Transformed in meaning
What about ‘woman’? The word is innocent. It does not smack of anything else on the surface of it or so it seems. But ‘woman’ itself has its sex implications in such a sentence as “she is his woman.” No decent woman will feel flattered on hearing this. Nor “woman thy name is frailty”.
I have a sneaking feeling that many writers refrain from using this quote; many editors blue pencil the famous quote which has become infamous in era of the woman.
Even the word ‘house’ has succumbed to slur. ‘House’ means “a house of prostitution”. ‘Bordello’ now means a brothel, though once it was an honourable bedroom. Words like ‘slut’ and ‘harlot’ are taboo in polite society. Women shun them men use them with a sly smile and a wink.
It is a man’s world. He sees to it that she is blamed the temptress. That the forbidden fruit episode slur is fixed on her.
Down the ages, when Charles II came to the throne in 1660, it was the heyday of immorality. ‘They from the boxes made advances, to answer stolen sighs and naughty glances.’
‘Boudoir’, you are familiar with the word that means an elegantly fur-
nished room to which a lady can retire or receive her intimate friends. However, in the past the word meant pouting room. A young lady retired to this room to get over her sulks. It comes from French ‘bouder’ to pout.
Women all over the world are undergoing transformation which is also happening in the words used about them. The world of womanly words is becoming womanly!
Many words used in the past have now become unworthy or funny. A ‘housewife’ is now the mistress of the household, but the old English word ‘huswif’ gradually changed to ‘hussy’ which is now full of contempt if not downright abusive.
‘Dame’ has lost its old status. It is now used in an unbecoming way. Yet, its history is one of dignity. It had its beginning in the little ‘domina’. We find it occupying a high position such as in the title of Cathedral Notre Dame, that is “The Cathedral of Our Lady”.
The present day teachers feel elated when their students address them as ‘Madam’ but it too has dark connotations. If one says she is ‘madam of a house of ill-repute’. It means that she is the owner of a brothel.
The ways of words with women, and women with words is another fascinating aspect of this language. A dress is ‘adorable’ a room is ‘sweet’, a gift ‘precious’, and a lover a ‘darling’. A handsome man is ‘cute’, a day ‘heavenly’. There are ‘ooddles’ of other words she uses such as ‘fan..tas…tic’.
The university miss uses ‘naughty’ and ‘yaar’ without inhibition. Not only that, she uses the former for boyfriend and the latter for a girlfriend! When a roadside Romeo teases her, she blurts ‘stupid’ which is seldom used by the male.
She blows her nose, not with a handkerchief, but with a ‘hanky’. She is given to the play of diminutives. ‘Booties’ is her favourite. So is ‘sweetie’.
She uses exaggerations copiously. A ‘flick’ is a movie which is swell and the gift her lover gives her is simply ‘divine’. ‘Terribly’, ‘awfully’ and ‘frightfully’ are much used arrows from the quiver of her vocabulary when she articulates negativity.
Being a little euphoric
Call her ‘fat’ and she frowns; call her ‘plump’ and she smiles because it means rich and ample.
What about ‘buxom’? It too means plump, there was a time it meant pliant and pleasant. Being buxom was to be obedient. Later, it became ‘blithe’ then ‘healthy’ and full of vigor. But the past bend has gone into the curves of her figure. Hence, it means pleasantly plump.
The trend today is ‘zero-figure’, whatever the word means. The fact is that from the days of Adam, men always had fixation for the bosom – big one. Richard Burton, the American actor who married Elizabeth Taylor twice, once described her ample pair as ‘catastrophic’.
I would like readers to look up the dictionary to understand the meaning of the word. There is in store for them a bit of ‘titillation’!
‘Coquette’, once applied to men, came from French ‘cock’, who behaved like a henyard cock with his strutting and amorous advances. Later, the word became feminine and it meant a frisking and flippant woman.
Today, ‘lady’ is honourable, elegant and sophisticated. Once it meant mean mother – used by maids for their mistress. Once, it also meant a woman of pleasure. But now the word ‘lady’ has come into owns as term of dignity and class.