Archive for the ‘Language and gender’ Category

Decline and rise of gay

March 29, 2014

Geoff Nunberg writes with this Google Ngram:


This shows the usage of gay (at least in the books Google samples) gently declining until roughly 1980 and then zooming up. The interpretation I’d provide here is that “old gay ‘merry’ ‘” was declining very slowly (it became “old-fashioned”), until “new gay ‘homosexual’ ” eventually took over massively. But others might have other interpretations.

Women in comics

February 26, 2014

The Dork Tower cartoon (by John Kovalic) from the 24th (a bit fuzzy from being blown up):


Women’s comics

February 19, 2014

An AP story from the 16th: “Pa. exhibit traces history of female comic artists” by Kevin Begos:

It took a war to let the country’s female comic book artists break character.

A new exhibit at Pittsburgh’s Toonseum is celebrating the history of female comic artists, including those who began laying the groundwork 100 years ago and the female artists of the 1940s, when World War II sent many male artists overseas.


Frivolity for Valentine’s

February 14, 2014

From Steven Levine, this remarkable advertising image:

Elsie the Cow, in a maid’s apron and nothing else — yielding a racy image — offering a very substantial breakfast. Smiling and dancing.

More on Elsie here.


January 12, 2014

I’ve posted this on Elizabeth Zwicky’s Facebook timeline, where it’s been appreciated. Now to give it a somewhat more permanent home, on this blog.

From the website One Last Blog on Nothing of 12/18/13, “One Weird Old Trick to Undermine the Patriarchy” by Michelle Nijhuis, beginning:

My five-year-old insists that Bilbo Baggins is a girl.

The first time she made this claim, I protested. Part of the fun of reading to your kids, after all, is in sharing the stories you loved as a child. And in the story I knew, Bilbo was a boy. A boy hobbit. (Whatever that entails.)


girls, women, gals

October 30, 2013

On Facebook, Ann Burlingham has passed on this posting (from February 1st), “Why Are We Referring to Women as Girls?” by Yashar Ali, about men referring to women in the workplace as girls. (Note: Yashar Ali is a man.)


Brief notice: spinsters

October 9, 2013

In the NYT Magazine on the 6th, a “Who Made This?” piece by Pagan Kennedy on movie popcorn, with this accompanying note on a metaphor:

The industry term for unpopped kernels: spinsters

One commenter disputed this claim, saying that the correct term was old maids. Other sources:

What I do not care for is all those unpopped kernels at the bottom of the bag. Incidentally, these kernels are referred to as “spinsters” among popcorn aficionados.  (link)

Unpopped popcorn kernels have been dubbed “old maids” in popular slang, since just as unmarried women that never had children, they do not “pop”. (link)

Apparently there are alternative usages.

From NOAD2 on spinster (originally ‘a woman who spins’):

an unmarried woman, typically an older woman beyond the usual age for marriage.

The word has a derogatory tone that goes beyond an unmarried woman. NOAD2 treats old maid as explicitly derogatory:

derogatory   a single woman regarded as too old for marriage.

New words for new times

September 26, 2013

In the NYT yesterday, “Rutgers Updates Its Anthem to Include Women” by Ariel Kaminer:

No one song could ever capture all the motivations that bring students to a college campus, all the experiences they have there or all the ways those experiences changed their lives.

But “On the Banks of the Old Raritan,” the alma mater of Rutgers University, is particularly inadequate. “My father sent me to old Rutgers,” the song proudly began, “And resolved that I should be a man.”

Women were first enrolled in Rutgers in 1972 and now make up half the student body. It was time for fresh words.


Like, uptalk, and Miami

September 10, 2013

I’ll start with a three-strip series from One Big Happy:




The two features at issue here — the discourse particle like and “uptalk” (a high rising intonation at the end of declaratives) — have been much discussed in the linguistic literature. The popular, but inaccurate, perception is that both are characteristic of young people, especially teenagers, especially girls, and both features are the object of much popular complaint.


Name notes

July 12, 2013

Item 1, royal names. On NPR’s Morning Edition this morning, people discussing names for the forthcoming British royal baby.

Item 2, unisex names, in particular Taylor.

Item 3, fashions in naming, especially for American Jews.



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