an old-time battle-ax

George Thompson george.thompson at NYU.EDU
Fri Mar 3 16:00:30 UTC 2006

This was a favorite term of my father's, to denote a woman he found
objectionable.  The OED says "formidable or domineering" -- Father
would have said, "they've got the right idea".  When I introduced my
wife to him, saying "this is Maggie", he took her hand warmly in both
of his and held it, saying "Do you mind if I call you Margaret, my
dear?  There's been only one Maggie in my life, and that was my battle-
ax of a sister."   Thus she was introduced to the Thompson clan; but
she assures me that there were battle-axs among her own father's

In any event: HDAS & OED have the term from 1896, a year or two after
my father's birth, but I suppose I can't make any claim that he coined

Lately, I've been reading the underground newspapers of NYC from the
1840s, wherein I find the following:
Hannah [Williams] is the leader of a society called the "Battle Axes,”
the chief doctrine of which seems to be, to do away with the
institution of marriage.
        The Whip, December 3, 1842 (II:22) p. 2, col. 2, from a
Reading, Pa., paper.

Hannah’s been convicted of fornication, and not for the first time;
she’s quoted using language that indicates religious nuttery.  Those
with access to newspapers of that district, online or otherwise, might
want to look into her story further.


George A. Thompson
Author of A Documentary History of "The African Theatre", Northwestern
Univ. Pr., 1998, but nothing much lately.

The American Dialect Society -

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