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

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM
Sat Mar 27 14:46:08 UTC 2021

The historical evidence is that this sense of "pussy," in origin, has
everything to do with "pussycats" and little to do with vaginas - though
it's interesting that nobody seems to believe this.  Just as they don't
believe that "jackass" is not obscene.

The relevant sense of "pussy" does not appear in print till the 1960s, some
years after "pussycat." And yes, it could have been printed earlier,
particularly in WW2 novels and reminiscences.

BTW, the word "pussycat" now seems to be avoided by adults even more than
"jackass."  FWIW, my college roommate was certain that "pussycat" applied
only to females.


On Fri, Mar 26, 2021 at 11:38 PM Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at yale.edu>

> > On Mar 26, 2021, at 8:35 PM, Stanton McCandlish <smccandlish at GMAIL.COM>
> wrote:
> >
> > 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”).
> Agreed with much of the above, but I’m not sure I buy the claim that
> "calling a man a 'pussy' is misogynistic” is…linguistically wrong”, even it
> is historically wrong, since most speakers do synchronically link this
> sense of “pussy” with female genitalia and not cats. (Calling someone,
> including oneself, a pussy-cat is quite different.) To be sure, it’s a
> different kind of insult when you call a man a pussy and when you call him
> a cunt (in the U.K., where it’s much more common, or the U.S.) or a twat.
> Or when you refer to a man as “she” or to male troops as “ladies", as
> football coaches and sergeants are wont to do.  I would claim these are all
> misogynistic when used now, whatever the source of these words may have
> been, given what Mill called the etymological fallacy.
> LH
> >
> >
> > 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
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

"If the truth is half as bad as I think it is, you can't handle the truth."

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

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