Wednesday, 30 March 2016


muliebrity -- This word is pronounced myoo-lee-eb-ri-tee and means "womanhood" or "femininity."

According to, "Muliebrity has been used in English to suggest the distinguishing character or qualities of a woman or of womankind since the 16th century. (Its masculine counterpart, 'virility,' entered the language at about the same time.) 'Muliebrity' comes from Latin mulier, meaning 'woman,' and probably is a cognate of Latin mollis, meaning 'soft.' 'Mollis' is also the source of the English verb 'mollify'-a word that implies a 'softening' of hurt feelings or anger."

I wonder why muliebrity has fallen out of use, as have the other words I featured this month – sistren, maritorious, misandry and sororal? Is the question important? What do such changes say about people's lives through time? Since language does certainly reflect what we experience, value and talk about, what does the general disappearance of these words say about English speakers, at least?

One of the things I enjoy about language is its flexibility. It is a vital tool we humans use to strengthen and deepen two of our primal needs – to belong and, through belonging, to survive. Therefore, words and expressions move into common use because they fit (and shape) the attitudes and experiences of a given time and place. They move out of common use because they do so less and less.

And, so, my March exploration into mostly defunct English words relating to women has been interesting to me because it has raised a few questions and has also brought to my attention some of my own reactions to these words and their almost total disappearance. Writing about these words has also reminded me that I am in control of the words I use and the thinking and beliefs from which they arise.

Wednesday, 23 March 2016



Here is another post in honour of International Women's Day on March 8. Through this whole month I'm taking a look at the English language as it reflects, supports and squelches women's perspectives.

The words sistren and brethren were both common in the 12th to 15th centuries, but by the middle 16th century sistren had fallen out of use. "Sisters" and "brothers" are more common today, but sistren might still be used to convey and foster the same sense of belonging-ness that brethren can convey.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016


Uxorious: "excessively or obsessively fond of your wife," from the Latin word, uxor, wife. Its opposite, maritorious, comes from the Latin word maritus, husband, but is extremely rare. It appeared in the Oxford English Dictionary only twice between 1607 and 1978.

Language reflects and shapes daily life. Have so few women been excessively, obsessively fond of their husbands, or is their experience so discounted that, once again, words that express it are not normalized? Is something else at play here? Possibilities abound...

A comedian (or comedienne, I suppose, if there were actually any good reason to distinguish between female and male funny people) could make quick work of this little question.

Wednesday, 9 March 2016


During the month of March, in honour of International Women's Day on March 8, I am posting words and expressions related to the lives of women and girls. Expand your vocabulary, expand your mind.

misandry: This very rare word means sexual discrimination against and hatred, denigration and sexual objectification of men. It is the opposite of "misogyny," which expresses the same attitudes and actions towards women. Not being big on hatred towards anyone, still I think it's interesting, unfortunate and sadly unsurprising that we have a common word for such attitudes and actions against women but no equally common word aimed at men.

How intriguing...or something...that although I have known women who hate/greatly dislike/have trouble trusting men in general, the English language has only this virtually unknown word to represent the denigration of men. Do some women denigrate, hate and sexually discriminate against men? Of course. Is the word misandry so rare because women are more equality-minded than men? More aware? I'm not touching those questions with a ten-foot pole.

However, I am sure that women's experiences of abuse, denigration and objectification are so common around the world and through time that their human reaction against the males who enact such treatment is not expressed – rightly or wrongly – in the English language. Well, I suppose you could say that okay, thank you and yes are common words that women are so often taught to say, but that's obviously not what I'm talking about.

We absolutely do not need another word for hatred, but I do believe it's important to become aware of how our language represents and validates our thinking.

Wednesday, 2 March 2016


In honour of International Women's Day, which is March 8, all of my #WordWednesday posts this month will be words about women and girls. Many words in common use today are male-oriented, which is not surprising, given the male-dominated history of the human race. The thing is that we (me included) often don't know the words that refer to females.

To be clear -- I do not hate men. I rather like them. My many male family members, friends and colleagues are great guys. The point here is not to use language as a weapon against some group (males) but, rather, to better acknowledge and understand the perspective of another (females). Since language is such a crucial and integral part of how humans experience life, value can be derived from exploring language more deeply. 

So, this week's #WordWednesday is sororal, the female equivalent of fraternal. The word "sororal" comes from the mid-17th century Latin word soror, meaning "sister."

Unidentical twins are often called fraternal, but if both twins are girls, they can be called sororal twins. So: Sue & Jane are sororal twins. Have you ever heard of sororal twins? I sure hadn't before I stumbled over it yesterday. And as I type this paragraph I'm disappointed to notice that my online dictionary hasn't, either. It places its little red squiggles under "sororal" -- another indicator of this word's obscurity.
Another case in point: my hardcover Oxford English Dictionary contains the following words in this family of word cousins:
  • sorority -- fraternity
  • nothing -- fraternal
  • nothing -- fraternize
  • nothing -- fratricide, which is defined as "the killing of one's brother or sister" (italics mine)
 My hard cover Funk & Wagnall's Canadian College Dictionary does better:
  • sorority -- fraternity
  • sororate -- nothing (sororate: "the marriage of a man with the sister or sisters of his wife")
  • sororicide -- fratricide
  • sorosis -- nothing (sorosis: "a woman's club or society")
 Draw your own conclusions. I just think it's interesting, and since I love words, I'll now be open to ways to use soror word cousins when I can.