Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase an item using my link, I will receive a small commission with no extra cost to you.
Wordslut by Amanda Montell
Harper Wave, 2019
The word “bitch” conjures many images for many people but is most often meant to describe an unpleasant woman. Even before its usage to mean a female canine, bitch didn’t refer to gender at all—it originated as a gender-neutral word meaning genitalia. A perfectly innocuous word devolving into a female insult is the case for tons more terms, including hussy, which simply meant “housewife,” or slut, which meant “untidy” and was also used to describe men. These words are just a few among history’s many English slurs hurled at women.
Amanda Montell, feminist linguist and staff features editor at online beauty and health magazine Byrdie.com, deconstructs language—from insults and cursing to grammar and pronunciation patterns—to reveal the ways it has been used for centuries to keep women form gaining equality. Ever wonder why so many people are annoyed when women use the word “like” as a filler? Or why certain gender neutral terms stick and others don’t? Or even how linguists have historically discussed women’s speech patterns? Wordslut is no stuffy academic study; Montell’s irresistible humor shines through, making linguistics not only approachable but both downright hilarious and profound.
I have no idea how I found this book, but I am so glad that I did.
A really big part of my personality are the facts that I’m a raging feminist, and also that I majored in English in college. This book perfectly married two of my maybe four personality traits.
Montell uses humor to explain the history of the English language and the patriarchal background behind many of the words we use.
One of the most interesting parts for me was when she debunked myths behind women’s speech patterns. Different speech patterns that are commonly used by women are often looked at as being ‘unprofessional’, but Montell explains why this isn’t necessarily true. It reminded me of the time a former coworker told me that she didn’t get a promotion because our male manager told her she used the word ‘like’ too much. I now know that using ‘like’ a lot in speech has nothing to do with the speaker’s intelligence, or ability to communicate effectively, and more to do with what exactly they are trying to communicate.
Another part I loved was the part about the history of swearing. I swear like a pirate. My favorite word starts with an ‘f’ and has four letters, and I use it more than is socially appropriate. I also really don’t care. It’s the only word that can properly express my excitement, frustration, sadness, etc. Thank God for the ‘f’ word.
But. Did you know. There is a HUGE difference behind why women swear and why men swear? For men, it’s a normal part of speech, and is rarely given a second thought. When women swear, they are doing so to express a personality, their individuality, humor, and/or a negotiation of their femininity.
I could honestly go on forever about this book. It was so interesting, and I learned so much. I guess I have to put every feminist book about language on my waiting list at the library.