I have always had a problem with the word “Bitch”. I don’t like it, and if you feel the same, well hold onto your cotton knickers because it’s going to appear quite a lot in this blog post. The term is so common now; there is even a wiki entry on its origin. Just so you don’t have to Google, there are sources that point to the Old Norse word bikkja for “female dog.” The Oxford English Dictionary dates the term meaning “female dog” to around 1000 A.D.
The entry goes on to say that the word has been used since the fourteenth or fifteenth century as a derogatory word used to describe women. The inference is always sexual: a woman is a bitch is she acts like a “dog in heat”.
Keep reading – It’s only a word!
Wow – just in writing those words I can feel myself getting angry. And I am glad that I feel angry about that word. The first time it seems to appear in print is in 1400 (or thereabouts) where it comes as a line in a play in Arthur and Merlin: “Whom callest thou queine, skabde bitch?” (“Who are you calling a whore, you miserable bitch?”). Yep. Really nice stuff. I guess people haven’t changed!
By the same token, I have always been mystified as to why many people have such a strong reaction to the “C word” which I mercifully will not write about here. Let’s put all our notions of modern language out the door for a minute while we look simply at the linguistics of swearing. Back before 1800, the worst swear words were words that took a religious element, and were blasphemous. Phrases like God Damned, Jesus Christ and Hell were the worst things you could say (at least in the USA, UK and Australia!).
Where did swearing originate?
Post 1800 people became fascinated with body parts and sex, so the worst swear words became words that referred to sex, f**king or d**ks and C**ts. I personally like these swear words. After all, what is wrong with my c-word? I quite like it, thank you very much. There is quite a bit of discussion as to the origins of the c-word, with some sources saying that it was an offensive term used to refer to Native American women by the Pilgrims, but there are lots of different stories.
I’m not the only one who wants to reclaim the word. In fact there is a feminist movement that is looking to reclaim the word, much like the gay community has reclaimed Queer. Proponents include Inga Muscio in her book, C**t: A Declaration of Independence and Eve Ensler in “Reclaiming C**t” from The Vagina Monologues.
Can women reclaim the C-Word? Should they?
Language is important, and how we label ourselves is relevant. Dr Fiona Kate Barlow, social psychologist from the University of Queensland’s School of Psychology, says, “Boys have been socialised to not only hold negative stereotypes about women, but also to fear the teasing that may go along with it,” she says. Why, you just have to look at the slew of insults – ‘pansy’, ‘Nancy’, ‘pussy’, ‘bitch’ and ‘girl’ – designed to downgrade a man from masculine to feminine.”
There are some sources that say it simply used to be a descriptive word to describe the vagina or the vulva. I’m sticking with that. I like the word, and I often fought with my ex partner who hated it and certainly wouldn’t allow the word to ever pass my lips without a fight. He never used the word Bitch in front of me either and the one or two times in our relationship where it did get trotted out, I stood up and took notice.
I don’t mind swearing, but I still hate the word Bitch
The word always irked me, even as a young teenager. I disliked how women seemed to be wanting to reclaim that word, referring to themselves as bitches and using the term “bitch” as a playful insult. It’s even used in advertising now. And yet, a simple word like the c-word, which does not hold the same weight of insult behind it, is maligned and misunderstood. I have even written a post on swearing, and my valiant efforts at putting them to air, live on the radio!
So, I have to admit that I like swearing. As a copywriter, there are no words that I absolutely hate, and every word has its place. Words can be powerful when used in certain contexts and both the C word and the word Bitch are very emotive. In fact words such as bitch and bastard have lost their original meanings and now are only ever used as swear words, or cuss words.