[Ads-l] Relationship to 'pussy' - Re: Scaredy Cat - 1904; Fraidy Cat - 1889

Stanton McCandlish smccandlish at GMAIL.COM
Sat Mar 27 00:35:01 UTC 2021

This might be really old news, but I've often wondered whether "pussy" as
an insult ('coward', 'weakling') is closely related to this, i.e. the idea
of cats being easily frightened.  My supposition has been that the term
being applied to female genitals came later and was a reference to,
basically, being fuzzy and appealing. (I suspect that sense originated as a
non-vulgar and kind of childish term, like "wiener" for 'penis', and only
came to be considered vulgar later.)

I do know that "pus[sy]" as a term for 'cat' pre-dates both the 'coward'
and 'vagina' senses by centuries, but that's as far as I've looked into it
with materials easily on-hand.  If correct, I think this would necessarily
mean that the objection "calling a man a 'pussy' is misogynistic" is
linguistically and historically wrong, a folk etymology.

Another bit of evidence is that "cunt" and "twat" in British usage, most
often applied to men there but more clearly relating to 'vagina' than the
word "pussy", do not have 'coward' implications but something completely
different (and also different from the woman-targeted usage of these terms
in American English, where they're just more vulgar variants of "bitch").

Anyway, I'm hoping there's a good writeup about this stuff in a journal
somewhere. I should have full-text access to several journal sites again
soon through Wikipedia's GLAM program (
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WP:LIBRARY – worth checking out if you're a
regular editor there but do not have ready access to paywalled
journal-search stuff).

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

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