Monday, May 26, 2008

I got 99 problems, and the word “bitch” is one

I hate the word bitch. Not just because it is crude, rude, or derogatory, but because I see this word, in particular, as a word of oppression. The word bitch, as I see in common use now, is most often applied to women that are, shall we say, strong willed. Strong-willed, independent, outspoken, uppity, uncompromising = bitch.

How did the word evolve? Glad you asked.

From the Online Etymology Dictionary:


O.E. bicce, probably from O.N. bikkjuna "female of the dog" (also fox, wolf, and occasionally other beasts), of unknown origin. Grimm derives the O.N. word from Lapp pittja, but OED notes that "the converse is equally possible." As a term of contempt applied to women, it dates from c.1400; of a man, c.1500, playfully, in the sense of "dog." In modern (1990s, originally black English) slang, its use with ref. to a man is sexually contemptuous, from the "woman" insult.

"BITCH. A she dog, or doggess; the most offensive appellation that can be given to an English woman, even more provoking than that of whore." ["Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue," 1811]

The adj. bitchy "bad-tempered" (usually of females) is first attested 1925. The verb meaning "to complain" is at least from 1930, perhaps from the sense in bitchy, perhaps influenced by the verb meaning "to bungle, spoil," which is recorded from 1823. But bitched in this sense seems to echo M.E. bicched "cursed, bad," a general term of opprobrium (e.g. Chaucer's bicched bones "(unlucky) dice"), which despite the hesitation of OED, seems certainly to be a derivative of bitch. And cf. the mid-19th century U.S. blackface minstrel song verse about women's rights movement:

When woman's rights is stirred a bit

De first reform she bitches on

Is how she can wid least delay

Just draw a pair ob britches on.

Insult son of a bitch is O.N. bikkju-sonr. Slang bitchen "good" is first attested 1950s. Bitch-goddess coined 1906 by William James; the original one was success.”

One, please note the wonderful ode on the women’s rights movement. Two, the word is, in origin, comparing a woman to an animal (an untrained one at that), a curse, complaints, spoil, and of course something worse than a whore (nothing is worse than a whore that doesn’t listen).

Knowing all of this, why is the word “bitch” so acceptable is modern vocabulary (for example, bitch is not a FCC banned word.)? We are not as tolerant of other epithets that classify a gender, race, ethic group, religious group, etc. as animals. Why can we say bitch as many times as we want by FCC regulations, but not shit and not fuck. Why? Are we really saying that it is ok to demean women, particularly the strong-willed women, but we can’t talk about excrement?

I admit that I am unnerved by the lack of attention to the insidious nature of sexism in this country and throughout the world. To me, the word bitch symbolizes it all.