Pussy-wussy (1914, 1915)

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Wed May 26 03:52:06 UTC 2004

>>    There is NOTHING before 1970, anywhere.  I think "wuss" is from "wimp"
>>plus "pussy."
>It is possible. However I agree with Chapman that it might be from
>"pussy-wussy" with no "wimp" required. Chapman calls "pussy-wussy"
>'hypothetical', but it's now attested hundreds of times on the Web. Chapman
>says "wuss[y]" is from the 1960's ("American Slang", 2nd ed.).

Now, did "[pussy-]wussy" exist before (say) 1970?

Yes. However "fussy wussy" is attested too, for example, and the "wussy" in
"fussy wussy" would be expected to rhyme with "fussy" and therefore to be
phonetically unsuitable as a candidate etymon. So first we'd like to see
"pussy-wussy" in an environment where "pussy" is clearly as in "pussycat"
and NOT "pus"+"-y" = "purulent".

Here is "pussy wussy" from 1914 with presumptively appropriate pronunciation:


_Fairbanks Daily Times_ (Fairbanks, Alaska), 23 June 1914: p. 1, col. 6:

[from an entertainment program]

<<Song and Chorus, "Pussy Wussy Cat" ....>>


"Wussy" looks like a nonsense augmentation of "pussy".

Now was it ever used apart from the "cat" and apart from the meaning of "cat"?

Apparently so. The following from 1915 is consistent with a modern
interpretation ("prissy" or perhaps "wimpy"), I believe:


_Nevada State Journal_ (Reno NV), 15 July 1915: p. 1, col. 2:

Sisters of Virtue" Is Term Applied / ....>>


Another item apparently based on the same speech (San Francisco, 15 July 1915):


_Trenton Evening Times_ (Trenton NJ), 14 Aug. 1915: p. 7, col. 2:

<<... Mrs. Abigail Scott Duniway ... closed with the remark that she had no
patience with those who "depend on a pussy-wussy piece of white ribbon for
protection from themselves.">>


(These refer to a non-Prohibitionist Suffragist derogating the
Prohibitionist Suffragists.)

This "pussy-wussy" (or a later duplicate) could very easily be the ancestor
of modern "wuss[y]", I think.

-- Doug Wilson

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