This is no sh*t.

Dave Wilton dave at WILTON.NET
Sat Jul 31 02:16:24 UTC 2004

> -----Original Message-----
> From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU]On Behalf
> Of Jonathan Lighter
> Sent: Friday, July 30, 2004 2:33 PM
> Subject: Re: This is no sh*t.
> Just to stir the pot a little, I 'd like to know approximately
> what proportion of slang terms (defined as you like) have been
> created by women. Given the current state of knowledge, even an
> approximate figure - 5%, 50%, 90% - is impossible to know or
> guess at reliably. My own SWAG is a lot closer to 5% than %50.
> You say, Arnold, that "women are adept users of large parts of
> the slang lexicon."  Other than the "taboo" part, which parts do
> you have in mind?  And "part" iteself in this regard seems to me
> to be virtually indefinable.
> As I observed in the intro to HDAS 1, we are fairly sure, from an
> abundance of real-life and media evidence, that women
> (particularly middle-class) have openly been using far more taboo
> language in the past, say, forty years than ever before. (Those
> who doubt this may consult women of their acquaintance who are 65
> or over about taboo language before, say, 1960.  Let's see what they say.)

Some data points: when I was a teenager in the late 70s, my cousins and I
were greatly amused that an older aunt, a woman who must have been in her
50s at the time, did not know what the word "fart" meant. (We overheard a
conversation between her and her younger sisters about a humorous birthday
card that used the word; so she was not pretending for the benefit of the
youngsters.) She was an army officer's wife and had plenty of exposure to
those of different "classes," enlisted men and their wives. But I'd be
willing to bet that in her era speech patterns of others changed when
"ladies were present" and she just did not hear such words.

Similarly, in 1983 I recall my grandmother (born 1899) pronouncing the "w"
in "whorehouse." (She had read a review of the Tom Cruise movie "Risky
Business" and was speaking about "the boy who opened up...I guess you would
call it a whorehouse." Clearly she knew what the word meant from reading,
but I'm not sure she had ever heard the word pronounced. Strange, since she
was a church-goer and must have heard some preacher talk about the "whore of
Babylon" at some point, but maybe she didn't make the connection--or maybe
it was our more genteel form of Presbyterianism that avoided such locutions
even when in Scriptures.

The degree of slang usage/comprehension among women is likely to be heavily
influenced by age and social class. Certainly, the women I work with here in
Silicon Valley, mostly in their late-20s and 30s, are as adept at slang
usage as their male counterparts. Sexual slang is not prevalent in my
workplace, but you occasionally do hear it and it's as likely to be from a
woman as from a man.

--Dave Wilton
  dave at

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