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

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Sat Mar 27 15:57:15 UTC 2021

Sent from my iPhone

> On Mar 27, 2021, at 10:46 AM, Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at gmail.com> wrote:
> 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.

Or that “suck” v.i. is, if Ron Butters is right, unrelated in its origin to fellatio. Hence my point about the etymological fallacy. 

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

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

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