Derogatory or Pet Name?

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM
Sun Feb 5 01:25:00 UTC 2006

The simplest explanation is that "Pussy" was a given name, from "pussycat."  Unlike the case in earlier centuries, pet cats had come to be regarded as adorable by the mid 19th C.  I believe I have seen "Pussy" used occasionally as a woman's name in Victorian writing (and, no, I'm not thinking of _Goldfinger_).


James Landau <jjjrlandau at EARTHLINK.NET> wrote:
  ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
Sender: American Dialect Society
Poster: James Landau
Subject: Re: Derogatory or Pet Name?

A long shot, but you might try to research the term "wood pussy" for
"skunk" (according to MWCD11, it is "ca 1899") and see whether that term is
derogatory or not. I am told that people who are in the habit of meeting
skunks in the wild think of them as something other than mere odormakers.

If "wood pussy" is a complimentary term, then considering that slaves on
southern plantations are more likely than the general public to meet skunks
in the wild, it may turn out that "pussy" was in the ante-bellum South a
term of endearment. But this is just a guess.

Aside: someone asked about whether cigarette packages once had lead foil.
I don't know, but I do know from working at Anaconda Aluminum 1965-67 that
in the 1960's cigarette foil was made from aluminum, about 3
ten-thousandths of an inch thick (kitchen aluminum foil is about one
one-thousandth of an inch). As far as I know, aluminum in the 20th Century
has always been cheaper than lead, and for that matter can lead be rolled
to .0003 inch thickness?

James A. Landau
Test Engineer
Northrop-Grumman Information Technology
8025 Black Horse Pike, Suite 300
West Atlantic City NJ 08232 USA

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