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The Meaning of the Word “Bitch” Essay


Abstract

The Oxford English Dictionary defines the word ‘bitch’ as a female dog. However, in most of the general-speaking usage, the word is meant to describe women in a derogatory manner. It is, therefore, common to hear the word being used to insult or hurt the feelings of others in modern-day usage. This portrays women as inferior or lesser human beings, while at the same is offensive and hurtful to the person to whom the word is subjected. This paper will discuss the derogatory connotations of the word ‘bitch’ and the various changes the meaning of this word has undergone over time.

The Meaning of the Word “Bitch”

Oxford dictionary defines the word ‘bitch’ as a female dog or a wolf (Oxford English Dictionary, 2006). The same dictionary defines the word to mean a derogatory term of a spiteful or unpleasant woman. Also, the word ‘bitch’ can be used informally to mean a difficult or unpleasant situation or thing. In most cases, the word ‘bitch’ usually denotes a derogatory sense; hence, it can be hurtful when used to refer to others. In various cases and contexts, the word is usually used to refer to a person or something that is in a very harsh and degrading status. This word has a lot of power, especially when used in a way that suggests an intention to evoke hurtful feelings to others.

This word usually has more derogatory connotations than non-derogatory connotations. The derogatory sense and connotation have developed over time due to the common usage of the word in informal situations. Therefore, this paper will analyze and evaluate the derogatory sense and connotation of the word ‘bitch,’ especially in situations and contexts that it is used offensively.

Etymology and epistemology of the word ‘Bitch’

According to OED, the word Bitch etymology can be dated to the early 1000A. D, where it was derived from the Old Norse word, bikkja, which means a female dog (Jao, 2013). Again, the same dictionary argues that the word ‘bitch’ originated from the Old English word, bicce, which has a Germanic origin. In the early 14th century, the word was used to mean a derogatory term for women. Besides, its most initial slang was used to mean sexual behavior such as to say a promiscuous woman, due to its metaphorical and figuratively extension of the practice of a bitch on heat (Águila, Cantor-Navas, & Cobo, 2013).

On the other hand, the epistemology of the word ‘bitch’ is used to mean she dog and is commonly used in various contexts, but mostly offensively to hurt feelings. Furthermore, the word is believed to be more offensive when used to refer to a woman than even the word whore. Finally, the word is currently used in various contexts, and its meaning usually depends on the culture and the relationship between people involved. For example, the words, “you are the son of a bitch” have been used severally to mean a man that has unmanly characters (The Bitch, 2013).

The word ‘Bitch’

To begin with, it is important to note that language usually changes over time. The change of style usually occurs at the beginning of the spoken language and mostly involves the syntax, the morphemic nature of language, and the various linguistic levels of expression (Wickens, 2008). Also, it is the lexical item of the word that gives us the capacity to assign meanings to words. As a result, new words or functions of a word may be added, the function of a word may change, and old words may at times disappear. Besides, these changes in words are usually unpredictable, and new dimensions of the meaning of a word may occur (Wickens, 2008).

It is also worth noting that the word bitch is very common in American vocabularies than in many other cultures globally (What goes around, 2010). Despite this, the word has been used, and it continues to denote the number of things and meanings. Primarily, the word is usually applied in various contexts and cultural environments to infer and refer to different situations and persons. Furthermore, words usually carry meaning, and when these words are joined together with other words, they form sentences that also have meaning. Actually, according to various studies and scholars, including philosophers, words usually have meaning according to the context in which they are used (Wickens, 2008). Also, some scholars argue that it is the language that controls the speaker’s use of words depending on the context of the word’s usage. Therefore, it is the language and the context of usage that defines and determines the meaning of words.

Another important point to note is that words usually have two different types of meaning (Wickens, 2008). To begin with, words have the denotative meaning, which usually shows and denotes the direct and the dictionary meaning of words. Secondly, there is the type of meaning called the connotative meaning (What goes around, 2010). This is the meaning of the word about the context and situation where it is used. Therefore, this meaning of words is usually personalized, and it mostly depends on the individual usage of the word. There is a need to understand these two types of the meaning of words to control and regulate our choice of words in different kinds of contexts and situations (Young, 2004). However, the connotative meaning of words usually gives leaners their denotative lexical value and change (Wickens, 2008).

Language learners can increase their vocabulary and lexical understanding of various words in various ways. To begin with, through the compounding of words and other word formation methods, learners can create other new words. At times, this can change the grammatical function of a word and even its word category as part of speech or word form. Besides, through the borrowing of words from other languages and application ion of morphemic and phonological rules and patterns of words, learners can create new words on their own. Besides, through the extension of the current usage of various words, learners can infer new applications of words depending on context and situation (Young, 2004).

In the case of the word bitch, it is this creation of new words through the use of existing words based on context and situation that has made the word to have several meanings and usage, including the derogatory sense of meaning. However, this rarely results in loss of the original meaning of the word. In most cases, this process usually involves generalization of the meaning of a word. For example, the word bitch has been largely generalized to mean a degraded person or an unreasonable person; thus, it is generally taken to denote derogatory sense meaning of being subordinate (Cupaiuolo, 2005). In that sense, traditionally and currently, the word is usually used to mean a difficult person, a difficult woman, or a spiteful or unpleasant woman or situation (Son of Stitch ‘n Bitch, 2007).

It is also worth noting that the word bitch involves a lot of meaning shift whereby, its meaning was transferred to mean a non-derogatory sense. This means that its meaning is associated with a female dog and unpleasant woman; but in usage, its meaning is usually associated with something else. As a result, it has gone through amelioration process where the meaning of a word shifts to naming of a more favorable thing or object than what the original meaning infers (Son of Stitch ‘n Bitch, 2007).

The main and specific meaning of the word bitch is a female dog. The Oxford dictionary argues that the origin of the word female dog dates back to around 1000A. D. This word, ‘bitch,’ has been used as an insult to mean a derogatory term for women since the early 14th century. Again, its earliest meaning was to denote sexual behavior whereby, it was used to indicate a promiscuous woman, thus the term, ‘son of a bitch’ (Wickens, 2008). Furthermore, this term remained an insulting term throughout the early 19th century. Others argue that the term is too much derogatory and very offensive when used to refer to the promiscuous behavior of women. This is because the term was originally used to refer to a female dog (Wickens, 2008).

The modern usage of the term and the word ‘bitch’ has a variety of meanings, which depend largely on the context and situation of usage (Wickens, 2008). This again usually varies from derogatory and offensive nature depending on the culture where it is used. Besides, the word can be used to mean a very difficult person to work with, hence the usage, “You are a bitch.” Nevertheless, the word ‘bitch’ is still considered one of the offensive terms because in most cases, the word is usually used to demean women in society (Cupaiuolo, 2005).

Furthermore, according to modern feminisms, the term is usually used to denote and connote submissive and weak female who does not care about her rights. However, according to pop culture, the word bitch is used to refer to an outspoken and empowered woman who knows about her rights and obligations. Furthermore, in most hip-hop culture music, the word bitch is usually used to refer to a man who is subordinate to women and acts in some inferior women-like ways. In that sense, such a man lacks manly qualities, and he is referred to as a bitch (Young, 2004).

Moreover, the word bitch can be used as a verb to mean ‘to complain’; thus, it can be used to refer to a woman who likes complaining about very small and unpleasant issues most of the times. In playing cards, the term ‘bitch end’ is used to refer to the weaker player. On the other hand, the term ‘riding bitch’ is used to refer to the one who likes sitting between others in the car (Wickens, 2008). Therefore, the word ‘bitch’ is mostly used figuratively and metaphorically. For example, the word ‘son of a bitch’ has been used severally, both figuratively and metaphorically, to denote a man who is very rude and very offensive to others. Therefore, the word is usually used to insult others and to evoke hurtful feelings from others. About male characteristics and gender roles, the word is usually used to confer and infer a male person who acts by gender role violation and portrays women-like characteristics (Cupaiuolo, 2005).

All in all, the word ‘bitch’ has been metaphorically used in many situations and cultures to denote negative meanings in the society associated with women. The feminists believe that the word is used mainly to denote subordination of women in society (Young, 2004). The shifting and transfer of the word ‘bitch’ have produced several meanings that can be either connotatively bad or denotatively good depending on the cultures where it is used. For example, the word sounds good and positive when used in American and pop culture than when used in the African cultures (Young, 2004).

Conclusion

The paper has discussed and analyzed the usage of the word ‘bitch’. To begin with, it is important to note that the word usually invokes hurtful feelings and is very offensive when used to refer to others, either male or female. However, the paper indicates that the word is more frequently used to refer to female than males, and in most cases, its usage is very derogatory and offensive to females. Also, the word has undergone a lot of shifts and transfer since its inception, although the original meaning of the word mainly used to refer to a female dog.

Due to invention and changes in cultural languages and practices, the word has been used, both metaphorically and figuratively, in several cultures to refer to non-derogatory sense. Therefore, I can argue that the usage of the word ‘bitch’ is more commonly intended to denote and connote negative and offensive feelings. However, the usage and interpretation of its meaning usually depend on the context, the culture, and the situations at hand. Finally, the word ‘bitch’ has offended me personally several times; thus, its usage is very likely to result in hurtful feelings to others too.

References

Águila, J., Cantor-Navas, J., & Cobo, L. (2013). 5 New Artists to Watch. Billboard, 125(18), 28.

Cupaiuolo, C. (2005). Men Are Bitches, Too. Ms, 15(2), 13.

Jao, C. (2013). Design, Bitches. Architectural Record, 201(6), 36.

Oxford English Dictionary. (2006). Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

Son of Stitch ‘n Bitch: 45 Projects to Knit and Crochet for Men. (2007). Publishers Weekly, 254(44), 61.

The Bitch. (2013). Publishers Weekly, 260(47), 36.

Wickens, B. (2008). Battle over the B-word. Macleans, 108(4), 8.

Young, V. M. (2004). Anthropologies going to the dogs. WWD: Women’s Wear Daily, 188(58), 23.

What goes around? (2010). Hollywood Reporter, 337(21), 3.

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IvyPanda. (2020, May 13). The Meaning of the Word “Bitch”. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-meaning-of-the-word-bitch/

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1. IvyPanda. "The Meaning of the Word “Bitch”." May 13, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-meaning-of-the-word-bitch/.


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IvyPanda. "The Meaning of the Word “Bitch”." May 13, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-meaning-of-the-word-bitch/.

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IvyPanda. 2020. "The Meaning of the Word “Bitch”." May 13, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-meaning-of-the-word-bitch/.

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IvyPanda. (2020) 'The Meaning of the Word “Bitch”'. 13 May.

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