Thursday, 3 March 2011

Mrs Woman

This is a continuation from the discussion about the terms 'lady' and 'woman'.  

I was amused once to hear a nurse colleague relate the story of a home visit she'd made, where the person she went to interview referred to her as 'Mrs Wifey', a faintly derrogatory or dismissive appelation.  'Mrs Woman' is held similarly.  Sort of like the bus driver who told the elderly woman who was taking too long to board, "Lady, you don't need a bus, you need an ambulance."  A polite word, not politely meant.

Which term do I prefer?  Being the rebel that I was and probably still am I decided long ago that I would want know how to 'act like a lady', which is how my mother certainly aimed to raise me.  However, I felt the idea was sometimes used to keep females 'in their place' and preferred to seek the broader range of behaviour and experience allowed a 'woman'.  I somehow feel that 'lady' not only connotes a restricted lifestyle, but also one dependent upon a man, hopefully a gentle one, but not everyone is so fortunate.  The term 'woman' may be a bit coarser, but it seems to me to be about a person more able to take care of herself.  These are of course personal definitions.   Whilst I'm at it can I say that I think referring to any adult female as a 'girl' is just silly, unless the speaker wants to be a 'boy'?  But never mind, there are loads of silly people in the world.  

Now, what you've all been anxiously awaiting, the origin of that word:

woman, womanhood, womanish, womanize, womanly.  See vibrate [Excuse me?  You couldn't make this up, could you?], para 10 and heading.

vibrate (whence vibrator), vibratile, vibration, vibrato, vibratory; vibraculum; vibrant, whence vibrancy; Vibrio (whence, analogously, vibroid), vibrion; vibrissa; --waif; waive, waiver; wave, verb, hence noun (whence wavy) - compare waver, whence wavering; wife, wifehood, wifely, wive; women, whence - after the wife derivitives --womanish, womanize, womanhood, womanly; -- wipe (verb, hence noun), whence wiper; viper (when viperous), viperine; weever and wivern. -- whip (noun, verb), whence whipcord, whiplash - and other compounds especially whippoorwill; whence also whipper (note whippersnapper) and whipping - note whippet; -- guipure.

Fortunately, we aren't required to travel through all those terms to get to the one we want, but we do have to start with vibrate, paragraph 1:

1.  Latin uibrāre, verb transitive and verb intransitive [whatever], Medieval Latin vibrāre, to shake rapidly, to brandish, to dart, has present participle uibrans, oblique stem uibrant-, whence the English adjective vibrant, and past participle  uibrātus, whence 'to vibrate'.    

There is more but we don't need it just now, so we'll skip all the way down to 

9.  Thus we come, primarily to wife and secondarly to woman.  Wife derives, via Middle English wif, a wife, a woman, from Old English, wif, originally a woman, hence also a wife:  compare Old Frisian (and Old Saxon) wif, Old High German wīb, Middle High German wīp, German Weib, Medieval Dutch wief, wif, wiif, Medieval Dutch-Dutch wiif, and Old Norse vīf, all originally and predominantly a woman.  Old English wif has the following derivatives extant in English:  wīfhād, English wifehood; wīfian, to take as a wife, English 'to wive' (obsolete), influenced by wives, plural of wife; wīflic, English wifely - compare Medieval Dutch wifelic; and housewife (Middle English husewif, contracted huswif, whence hussy) - compare HOUSE [but we won't]Semantically, the Germanic word for a woman apparently means either 'the vibrator' (Indo European) or 'the veiled one' (Old Germanic) - compare Old Norse vifinn, veiled (adjective), akin to Old Norse veifa, to vibrate, to wave (as a veil does in the wind); the former notion is the more basic and, historically, the more probable.

10.  Old English, wif, woman, wife, has the important compound wifmann (originally masculine), literally a 'woman', hence female, human being, the generic Old English mann, E man, as opposed to the particular mann, man, male human being:  Old English variant, the eased wimmann:  Middle English wifmon and wimman (compare the pronunciation of English women), then wumman (compare the pronunciation of English woman) or womman, finally woman:  English woman.

Wasn't that fun?  If you're really good, next week I'll tell you about whips and whippersnappers!

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