World of wom­anly words

We have come to terms in us­ing terms that once im­plied dif­fer­ent mean­ings.

Alive - - News - by I.M. Soni

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.

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