Synonyms are a girl’s worst enemy.

Let’s play a game called “Which synonym is the most offensive?” Via Thesaurus.com:

Main Entry: girl

Definition: female

Synonyms: babe, baby doll, bird, blonde, bobby-soxer, boytoy, broad, butterfly, canary, chick, coed, cupcake, cutie, dame, damsel, daughter, deb, debutante, doll, female, filly, gal, jail bait, lady, lassie, mademoiselle, maid, maiden, minx, miss, missy, mouse, nymph, nymphet, piece, queen, schoolgirl, she, sis, skirt, spring chicken, teenybopper, tomato, tomboy, virgin, wench, witch, woman

“Piece” is really sticking out for me. Here is its “antonym”:

Main Entry: boy

Definition: young man

Synonyms: buck, cadet, chap, child, chip, dude*, fellow, gamin, guy, half-pint*, junior, lad, little guy*, master, punk*, puppy*, runt*, schoolboy, shaveling, shaver*, small fry*, sonny*, sprout*, squirt*, stripling, tadpole*, whippersnapper*, youngster, youth

Just a little reminder of the power of language.

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45 Comments

  1. Posted October 30, 2006 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

    My god. “Master”? And notice how “woman” is a synonym for “girl” but “man” is not a synonym for “boy.”
    It’s interesting to me how “girl,” even though a social construct, is defined as “female” even though “female” is a biological, not social, identifier. On the other hand, “boy” is recognized is the social institution it is. As though you make men but all women are the same — here just for men’s use and pleasure, not to be developed in and of ourselves. Just sickening.

  2. Posted October 30, 2006 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

    Wow, that’s just crazy. Thanks for posting this.

  3. manda
    Posted October 30, 2006 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

    Well, isn’t that lovely. Just for fun, I thought I’d look up another word on thesaurus.com – sexism.
    Main Entry: bigotry (I actually typed “sexism”)
    Part of Speech: noun
    Definition: prejudice
    Synonyms: Jim Crowism*, bias, discrimination, dogmatism, fanaticism, ignorance, injustice, mindlessness, narrow-mindedness, partiality, provincialism, racialism, racism, sectarianism, sexism, unfairness
    Antonyms: fairness, open-mindedness, tolerance

  4. Posted October 30, 2006 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

    How is “virgin” in any way synonymous with “girl”?

  5. DT
    Posted October 30, 2006 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

    I thought that “spring chicken” implied young, not female. In fact, both google and the OED agree with me. So it’s not just offensive and weird, it’s also inaccurate! Woohoo!!
    Anyone want to discuss the fact that “virgin” is on the list?
    I’m somewhat tempted to start refering to myself as a “bobby-soxer.” It’s just so retro!

  6. louisianagirl
    Posted October 30, 2006 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

    jail bait is probably my favourite. it almost implies that the little girl only has one role. it also implies that she is outside of the law and its paternal order.

  7. Posted October 30, 2006 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

    Ok, now the whole day is shot! LOL
    But for me – I hate females answering to, “Hey guys.” We gotta stop doing that one too ~ making girls invisible.

  8. manda
    Posted October 30, 2006 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

    BTW, has anyone ever heard of a girl being called a tomato? Maybe I am just out of the loop when it comes to slang, but what the hell does that mean?

  9. Posted October 30, 2006 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

    Sorry about the double post. You know, not only are those “synonyms” completely derogatary, they’re stupid as Hell. Who the Hell says “dame” or “tomato” anymore? I can think of about a dozen actual synonyms off the top of my head that are a.) actually relevent and b.) not listed.

  10. EG
    Posted October 30, 2006 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

    I see your point about “guys,” as one would never call a woman by herself a “guy,” but there just isn’t an acceptable female substitute for it. “Girls”–no, I’m 30, my friends are 30, I stopped feeling like a “girl” a while ago. “Guy” is nice because it implies informality and familiarity without specifying age, really. “Girl” doesn’t work the same way, and the only other feminine cognate for “guys” I can think is “dolls,” which…no.
    On the original post: even the defintions are wrong. A boy is not a “young man.” A young man is either a human male aged, oh, 16-25, say, or a little boy who’s just gotten in serious trouble (“I don’t know who you think you are, young man…”).

  11. Posted October 30, 2006 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

    I just looked up synonyms for “black” to see if I could possibly be any more offended.
    It worked.

  12. Posted October 30, 2006 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

    It does look like half of the list was imported from a 30s gangster movie. I had forgotten about “skirt,” though. I intend to sound very Miller’s Crossing when using it.

  13. Posted October 30, 2006 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

    The only time I’ve ever heard a woman referred to as a tomato was in an R.E.M. song.
    This whole list is so warped and disturbing. Cultural implications aside, I’m worried about whoever edited that thesaurus.
    Cheers,
    TH

  14. Posted October 30, 2006 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

    I believe that, contrary to its usage today, the actual meaning of virgin is a young, unmarried female and has nothing to do with whether the individual has been penetrated. I suppose that saying it is a synomyn for girl implies that marriage–and, presumably, the sex that goes with it–will turn a girl into a woman.

  15. EG
    Posted October 30, 2006 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

    That’s the meaning of the Latin origin word, virgo, virginis, f. But the meaning of the English word “virgin,” according to the OED has to do with “inviolate chastity.”

  16. Posted October 30, 2006 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

    “Virgin” can be traced to the Latin virga, or “young shoot.” It has a general freshness/newness meaning, but you’re definitely right that the oldest English uses of the word referred to young unmarried women, with no direct reference to whether or not they still had hymens. (I’ve never been able to get what’s so fresh and pure about a hymen, but whatever.)
    Cheers,
    TH

  17. Raging Moderate
    Posted October 30, 2006 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

    As for “woman” = “girl”:
    My mother (76 years old) and my girlfriend (40 something years old) both say they’re going “out with the girls”. Even if the youngest “girl” is in her 80′s.
    Also, “let’s go boys” in not an uncommon statement on my softball team (the youngest player is 38).

  18. prairielily
    Posted October 30, 2006 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

    I thought a boytoy was when an older woman dated a much younger man? Not the action, the younger man.

  19. Posted October 30, 2006 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

    ‘Mouse?!’ Maybe that’s why in old adventure movies some hesitant guy always gets asked if he’s “a man or a mouse.”
    I’m also struck by the inclusion of ‘blonde’ and omission of ‘brunette’ and ‘redhead’. Not that I want to be referred to as my hair color, but you’d think there would at least be offensive parity.

  20. cycles
    Posted October 30, 2006 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

    1: “Shaveling?”
    2: A thesaurus doesn’t limit itself to direct synonyms. It provides related words, some of which may comprise a subset or superset of the word in question. Not all females are maidens, but all maidens are females. That kind of thing. It’s still unfortunate that most of the female words are derogatory or infantilizing, but I don’t think the thesaurus was saying a girl is the SAME AS a witch, bird, or tomato.
    The difference between “girl” and “boy” in the thesaurus entries is that the girl words are applied to older females, while the boy names are exclusively used for young males.
    In the interest of balancing things, here are some not-so-complimentary words for males (not boys):
    Beefcake
    Gigolo
    Brute
    Louse
    Churl
    Gadfly
    Oaf
    Lech
    Boor
    Pig
    Clod
    Big surprise that many of these convey unchecked power or aggression, rather than lack thereof?

  21. Posted October 30, 2006 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

    A couple of these need a little more etymology:
    “master” doesn’t mean the opposite of “servant” when used to refer to a boy – rather, it is the diminutive form of “mister.” c.f. JRR Tolkien’s LOTR, where “Master Frodo” and “Master Merry” are typical expressions. The form is quite archaic.
    I first encountered “tomato” in the context of the comic strip Bloom County – Opus is delirious, and hallucinates about “the tomato from the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue.” That was ~1985. I haven’t encountered it since, or in ordinary conversation.
    EG: perhaps “gals” is the word you’re looking for (the feminine equivalent of “guys”) – although the musical would suggest that it would be “dolls,” I suspect that that wouldn’t be the most welcome phrasing.

  22. Jes
    Posted October 30, 2006 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

    I just threw up in my mouth.

  23. Posted October 30, 2006 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

    I wrote a summary of sorts, on request of ginmar, of a chapter on sexism in the English language from my old sociolinguistics book. URL is included, for anyone interested, but I ask that nobody troll the commenters.

  24. Posted October 30, 2006 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

    manda:
    BTW, has anyone ever heard of a girl being called a tomato? Maybe I am just out of the loop when it comes to slang, but what the hell does that mean?
    I read a shortstory many years ago, I believe by James Morrow, in which a father uses “tomato” as a pet-name for his young daughter (which I think is actually pretty cute), but I’ve never heard it used as a generalized slang term for “girl”.
    I also used to have a cat named Tomato. A girl cat. A crazy girl cat. So there you go. :)

  25. Posted October 30, 2006 at 7:26 pm | Permalink

    What about CUNT? I didn’t see TRIM or GASH, either. Nor WHORE, Saucy baggage, HOLE, shrew, streetwalker, or PUSSY.
    WHAT an INCOMPLETE list!

  26. shmana
    Posted October 30, 2006 at 8:14 pm | Permalink

    pdrydia, your post looks fascinating! I’ll definitely be going back to it throughout the evening.
    What I want to know is what the hell is “coed” for. In a co-educational institution, wasn’t *everyone* there a coed regardless of sex? (oh yeah, i forgot, women are the other and don’t belong in the same educational spaces as men — that’s why we get our own term! what a silly tomato i am to overlook something so obvious.) And, in addition to all the other icky dated words, what kind of used do we have for that one anymore? I’ve hated it for a long time.

  27. thisisendless
    Posted October 30, 2006 at 9:29 pm | Permalink

    I am just wondering why there are asterisks indicating “slang” terms for the boy’s synonyms and not the girl’s synonyms. Are the derogatory words for “girl” not considered slang? But anything that could be considered slightly “not manly” for the word boy indicates it is slang. maybe I am just reading too much into it.

  28. Posted October 30, 2006 at 10:23 pm | Permalink

    Not a bad question. And after at least 6,000 years of institutional sexism, I’m not sure it’s possible to read too much into things like this…
    Cheers,
    tH

  29. ahleeeshah
    Posted October 30, 2006 at 10:26 pm | Permalink

    One of the best things that my favorite sociology professor has ever done for the women of my school is insist that they call themselves and other females of their age women. Any time someone says, “Well, I was talking to this girl…” She automatically corrects her and says that no one in the room is a girl anymore, we are women.

  30. Pickleberry
    Posted October 30, 2006 at 10:37 pm | Permalink

    Another favorite sociology professor story…
    A few years back my professor for introductory sociology had us (about 150 people) come up with a list of nicknames for females and/or the sexual aspects of their body parts and the same for males. The list for women was about 400 (mostly derogatory) terms long before she cut us off and moved on to men, for which the class could only come up with about 20-30.
    she also had a similar pet peeve about young women referring to themselves/their peers as girls….hmmmmmm

  31. poeslygeia
    Posted October 30, 2006 at 10:44 pm | Permalink

    Um . . . piece? What next, meat?
    (I say this in reference to the Muslim “cleric” who referred to women as pieces of meat.)

  32. Posted October 31, 2006 at 12:59 am | Permalink

    I believe that, contrary to its usage today, the actual meaning of virgin is a young, unmarried female and has nothing to do with whether the individual has been penetrated.
    The actual meaning of a word is what people think it is. Otherwise, the meaning of “man” is gender-neutral because that’s how it worked in Old English, and the meaning of “manual” is “human” because the Latin word “manus” (“hand”) derives from Proto-Indo-European *man (person).

  33. hendmik
    Posted October 31, 2006 at 7:43 am | Permalink

    I kept thinking as I read this that the only people who use these terms are either assholes or over the age of 75.
    I manage a corporate IT group of several nerdy male computer techs, and even they know that it’s not cool to refer to women like this.
    They employ subtle sexism, that they’re not even aware of: like referring to everyone in the group as “he” or saying “hey guys”. But I am confident it’s not intentional (although it’s arguably harder to fight). At any rate, I’m working on them.
    I recently hired a hispanic female technician. I completely underestimated how my group would accept her. After all, they’re computer nerds! They actually treat her as a human instead of a girl on a boy’s team. They restored my faith in humankind.
    We have some nasty systemic sexism ingrained in our culture, but I think it would surprise everyone here that there are many men out there that are smarter than it.

  34. Posted October 31, 2006 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    hendmik, i’m rather confused as to why you assumed “computer geeks” would have a natural disposition towards sexism? typically the more educated people are, the less likely they are to have prejudices like this. is your assumption that computer geeks must not be able to get dates, and therefore must not be comfortable around women? your whole commentary is bizarrely biased itself. it’s not a fair statement to say that feminists believe that all men are sexists. that is obviously not the case, and hardly the point.

  35. Andreas Schou
    Posted October 31, 2006 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    Apropos to nothing, ‘master’ is actually potentially apporopriate as a synonym for boy. It’s archaic usage, but Master:Mister :: Miss:Missus.
    – ACS

  36. hendmik
    Posted November 1, 2006 at 7:50 am | Permalink

    Amy,
    I looked over my post again and couldn’t see where I asserted that Feminists think all men are sexist. I don’t believe Feminists are organized that well to achieve that level of group-think. To the contrary, I, me personally, think most PEOPLE are sexist and don’t know it. When you’re out to eat and the server asks you “How are you guys diong tonight?” That is sexism. Subtle and ingrained into out culture through language, but there none the less. Does that make your server a bigot or a misogynist? Nah. They just do it out of habit and don’t know how they disenfranchise through language. Hell, I’ve heard Feminists do it. I’ve even slipped and done it myself on several occasions.
    And your assumtion that computer techs are more educated than normal folk is patently false, nor have I seen any correlation between education level and exhibited sexism. It runs the gamut. Of the 7 IT groups I have managed over the years, all the techs ranged from master degrees to GEDs. And those with college degrees had a completely different experience in college than I did. I have double psychology and Women’s Studies degrees and spent those years learning about the human condition, while they spent those years learning how to build and maintain a SQL server. Different knowledge, not better or worse, but certainly I try to round it off a bit when they come to work for me. I need their knowledge and hopefully they need mine too.
    IT is one of the last occupations to allow women in. It is still overwhelmingly white men in the profession. The stats are there. There are even foundations to try and get women more accepted in the industry and they can be even MORE sexist than the men. One is called WITI and their website has a banner ad stating “Empower yourself with a laptop bag.” Pathetic. As if fashion is all women have to contribute to IT. But there ARE people out there who think that way and they will NOT work for me.
    Was my commentary bizarrely biased? Probably. Arrogant? Definetely (it’s one of my many faults). I’ve been shown to have the horse-blinders on in the past when my stubborn switch is stuck on. But the data supports my position and thank GOD the CEO supports it too.

  37. jacque
    Posted November 1, 2006 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    I agree that this is insane – also, like thisisendless, I was wondering about the asterik – why are the boy ones pointed out as slang, but ones like piece or skirt are not? To me, they are definitely slang. Very sad indeed.

  38. mimo92
    Posted November 1, 2006 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

    Maybe it’s my objective position (couldn’t think of better word, I know it phrase), but I wasn’t offended by any of those words. It’s a group of letters formed to make a sound. I understand connotation- it can be very helpful to writing (I use such slang to characterize). What’s pissing you all off is the intent behind the word because getting upset at a word, to me, is ridiculous (I feel the same way about swears). I think that some of those words are there because it has to be unbiased and just enough so you can get an idea. I often use words like “doll” and “sweetie” and “honey” etc. for both genders because I hate the monotomy that all this pc stuff has left us with. I haven’t heard the term “tomato”, but I’d call my friend that or something because I think it’s different. The main reason such words are “taboo” is because, by getting offended, you are giving the word more power. If you truly wish to strip such a word of its intent is to change it.

  39. mimo92
    Posted November 1, 2006 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    “I know it’s a sucky phrase”* in line 1.

  40. pdrydia
    Posted November 1, 2006 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

    I really dislike that argument, mim. It basically boils down to “Why are you offended? You shouldn’t be offended. Stop being offended.”
    Gee, why should sexism offend us? I have no idea! But ignoring sexism isn’t going to make it go away. Ignoring the bullies doesn’t make them stop, and doesn’t take away their power. They can still punch you in the face.

  41. Erin
    Posted November 1, 2006 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

    My votes are “jailbait” and “virgin”. But they’re all bad.
    “Mommy, I’m not a _girl_, I’m _jailbait_!”

  42. hendmik
    Posted November 1, 2006 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

    Mim,
    How very Zappa of you. I kinda like it. Words are only words. Battle the source of the sexism, not the delivery.
    You said, “If you truly wish to strip such a word of its intent is to change it.”
    The best example I can think of is the logo for this site.

  43. Posted November 2, 2006 at 7:50 am | Permalink

    I agree that this is insane – also, like thisisendless, I was wondering about the asterik – why are the boy ones pointed out as slang, but ones like piece or skirt are not? To me, they are definitely slang. Very sad indeed.

    Presumably because ‘piece’, ‘skirt’ etc are real words in their own right, whereas ‘dude’ and others are not.

  44. mimo92
    Posted November 2, 2006 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

    pdrydia,
    I think that sexism is utterly dispicable (sp?). It’s one of the reasons why I love this website. This site is to me what Oprah is to everyone else. What I meant is precisely what hendmik said. I’m sorry if I got you confused- I tend to do that with my wording. I don’t think there’s anymore for me to address, if I missed anything, I’m sorry. After geometry, I’m too wiped out to comment further.

  45. beefcake
    Posted March 13, 2008 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

    Everyone has their own power to get affected by society.
    Everyone knows who they are and society certainly is not going to change no matter how many millions of feminist there are. The key for you to stop is recognizing who you are as a women and know how valuable you are, and not care for what other people who have no idea who you are think. Men will always be man ant they will always make names for girls, just as girls make names for guys. that doesn’t mean all girls mean what that one person think they are.
    No one should take society personally because that is why is called a society. because its focused everyone that lives on it.
    I am not saying girls should quit being feminist, all i mean is that value yourself for who you are and not for what society think. Fight for yourself and not anyone else.

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