[Ads-l] catcall, v.

Ben Zimmer bgzimmer at GMAIL.COM
Fri Jul 29 19:13:10 UTC 2016

My latest Wall Street Journal column is on the word "catcall":


An OED3 draft addition (Dec. 2006) added this meaning to the noun
"catcall": "orig. U.S. A whistle, cry, or suggestive comment intended to
express sexual attraction or admiration (but usually regarded as an
annoyance), typically made by a man to a female passer-by" (first cite 1956)

The verb "catcall" was not similarly expanded, however -- the entry is
still unrevised, with cites from the 18th-19th c. Oxford Dictionaries does
have this verb sense: "Make a whistle, shout, or comment of a sexual nature
to a woman passing by."


As I note in the column, the harassing verb sense is attested as early as
1920 in _Main Street_ by Sinclair Lewis.

1920 Sinclair Lewis _Main Street_ 102  But she was sickened by glimpses of
the gang of boys from fourteen to twenty who loafed before Dyer's Drug
Store, smoking cigarettes, displaying "fancy" shoes and purple ties and
coats of diamond-shaped buttons, whistling the Hoochi-Koochi and
catcalling, "Oh, you baby-doll" at every passing girl.


The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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