The meaning of the word ''b***h''

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YourMajesty
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08 May 2012, 2:14 pm

I live in Europe, and foreign stuff on tv is usually American or sometimes British. As it looks to me, according to what I see from films, non-fiction tv and music, the word b***h has a very negative, respectless and degrading meaning. Then, a guy I know said on the telephone to someone else: Where's your b***h? This made me feel annoyed, as it sounded really respectless. I asked if it's such a brilliant idea to talk about someone like that, and he said that people from New Zealand, Canada and Australia find it a very normal, informal word with a positive connotation. Is this true?



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08 May 2012, 2:27 pm

Ah yes... I believe I can help.
Whereas in some areas this meaning of the word stays the same but the context is different.
It really depends who you use this wording around.
Normally yes it is a negative wording that degrades women however most males who talk amongst themselves use this in playful banter.


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HisDivineMajesty
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08 May 2012, 2:27 pm

Depends on the people you're around, I suppose. Saying it in an English church is different from saying it in an American bar.
It doesn't seem to have too many positive connotations with anyone I know in countries where English is most people's main language.



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08 May 2012, 2:28 pm

Lots of young people call their "friends" b*tch, n*gg*r, f*gg*t, r*t*rd, etc.
Likewise lots of people insult their friends, tell nasty jokes about their mommas, etc.

It is difficult for me to understand "the rules" when an insult is used in a joking, friendly way vs. when it is inappropriate/hurtful. Seems like a lot of friendships and social relationships these days are based on making the other person seem small, and then saying "just kidding, lol!" My theory is, it is all based on establishing dominance/submission and understanding your place in the pack/rung on the social ladder. As in, the Alpha can insult anyone in the group (or their loved ones) without consequences, whereas for the Beta to do so may be seen as a challenge to the status quo. My advice to you is, when in doubt, don't call people b*tch*s, but conversely, don't strain your brain trying to understand the social calculus of NT's. :)



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08 May 2012, 2:39 pm

The true meaning of that word is female dog, however it become an insult of a woman's sexual behaviour via metaphorical association and comparison due to this phrase a b***h in heat (the hight of the canine reproduction cycle).

The word was first used (recorded use) as an insult in the Chester Mystery Plays back in the 15th century.



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08 May 2012, 2:55 pm

It could be a sub-cultural thing. In the USA I've heard the back seat of a motorcycle called the "b****h seat" amongst some biker/gearhead people.

Whether the women in such circles care I have no idea, though. I kind of get the impression that that word can be used so that "she's my b****" means "she's my girlfriend/lover/partner."

I've only ever been on the edges of such circles, though, so my knowledge is pretty limited as to how common that is.



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08 May 2012, 2:56 pm

HisDivineMajesty wrote:
Depends on the people you're around, I suppose. Saying it in an English church is different from saying it in an American bar.
It doesn't seem to have too many positive connotations with anyone I know in countries where English is most people's main language.


It depends on the context. Mystery plays are traditionally performed in churchs. So if the Chester cycle was put on you will hear the word in an English church. "Whom callest thou queine, skabde b***h?" (In Modern English, Who are you calling a whore, you miserable b***h?)



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08 May 2012, 3:06 pm

In Australia girls will sometimes refer to each other as b***h in a friendly sense in the same way that guys call each other c**t. I wouldn't consider it appropriate to call someone's long term girlfriend a b***h, though.



HisDivineMajesty
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08 May 2012, 3:06 pm

Of course, it might be acceptable in plays. Not something I'd imagine yelling through the York Minster.



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08 May 2012, 3:07 pm

People find it offensive ?? :S


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08 May 2012, 3:30 pm

This is a word which is confusing because the meaning is in the process of change.

Technically, it just means a female dog. I know a couple who raise sheepdogs, and once in a while they'll come out with something like "we had to put the b***h down" which takes a little getting used to, because it's not commonly used that way by laypersons anymore. It's still used that way among breeders, though.

When I was growing up it had one (and only one) other meaning, and that was a women who was being unreasonable. If your mom grounded you for a year because you missed one spoon while doing the dishes, then she might be referred to as a b***h. It was a very rude word. Of course this use was very subjective - what is unreasonable? Anyone would agree the example I gave is unreasonable behaviour, but people have different ideas about what constitutes unreasonable in many cases.

This leads directly to how the term is changing. That was the usage in the 80s or so and before. Feminists challenged the term in the 90s, because as you can imagine, every abusive male applied it to his partner whenever she didn't comply with whatever he wanted. So it got to be associated with that sort of thing. This led to some new uses. One was as a gender-neutral term for an inferior in a state of servitude (still a very rude term). Example: a bully who forced his victim to do something or other might claim the victim is his "b***h" (even if both are male). In jail, the 'female' partner in a homosexual relationship is sometimes described as a "b***h". These uses do not imply any unreasonable behaviour, merely submission.

Alongside that, some women started to use the term to describe themselves as having a strong-willed personality, and in this usage, it is a term of pride. Or sometimes, it is used by a woman to describe herself as having been unreasonable or cruel ("I'm such a b***h") almost in the same manner as the first usage. It is not very controversial when women use it to describe themselves, but it is still seen as a somewhat vulgar term which wouldn't be used in polite company.

Plus the original usage (a very rude term for an unreasonable woman) has continued alongside all that.

For the younger generation the term has mostly lost its controversial meaning and its association with abuse, and seems to be used primarily in the gender-neutral ways, or as a self-descriptor by women.

Finally there is the verb: to b***h. I'm not entirely certain when it became a verb. But this is a much less controversial use of the term. It is gender-neutral, and means to complain in a useless or exaggerated way (probably related to its association with abusive situations). You might "b***h" about getting a parking ticket.

I can imagine this is incredibly confusing for someone learning common English!!



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08 May 2012, 3:37 pm

Wow- thanks all. It is confusing indeed. I think that if I'd be from an English speaking country I'd be pretty cautious with the term!



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08 May 2012, 11:17 pm

edgewaters wrote:
This is a word which is confusing because the meaning is in the process of change.

Technically, it just means a female dog. I know a couple who raise sheepdogs, and once in a while they'll come out with something like "we had to put the b***h down" which takes a little getting used to, because it's not commonly used that way by laypersons anymore. It's still used that way among breeders, though.

When I was growing up it had one (and only one) other meaning, and that was a women who was being unreasonable. If your mom grounded you for a year because you missed one spoon while doing the dishes, then she might be referred to as a b***h. It was a very rude word. Of course this use was very subjective - what is unreasonable? Anyone would agree the example I gave is unreasonable behaviour, but people have different ideas about what constitutes unreasonable in many cases.

This leads directly to how the term is changing. That was the usage in the 80s or so and before. Feminists challenged the term in the 90s, because as you can imagine, every abusive male applied it to his partner whenever she didn't comply with whatever he wanted. So it got to be associated with that sort of thing. This led to some new uses. One was as a gender-neutral term for an inferior in a state of servitude (still a very rude term). Example: a bully who forced his victim to do something or other might claim the victim is his "b***h" (even if both are male). In jail, the 'female' partner in a homosexual relationship is sometimes described as a "b***h". These uses do not imply any unreasonable behaviour, merely submission.

Alongside that, some women started to use the term to describe themselves as having a strong-willed personality, and in this usage, it is a term of pride. Or sometimes, it is used by a woman to describe herself as having been unreasonable or cruel ("I'm such a b***h") almost in the same manner as the first usage. It is not very controversial when women use it to describe themselves, but it is still seen as a somewhat vulgar term which wouldn't be used in polite company.

Plus the original usage (a very rude term for an unreasonable woman) has continued alongside all that.

For the younger generation the term has mostly lost its controversial meaning and its association with abuse, and seems to be used primarily in the gender-neutral ways, or as a self-descriptor by women.

Finally there is the verb: to b***h. I'm not entirely certain when it became a verb. But this is a much less controversial use of the term. It is gender-neutral, and means to complain in a useless or exaggerated way (probably related to its association with abusive situations). You might "b***h" about getting a parking ticket.

I can imagine this is incredibly confusing for someone learning common English!!

very cool summary. i remember when Meredith Brooks released "b***h" - it was the first time i'd heard a woman refer to herself as a b***h in a way that was meant to be empowering.


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08 May 2012, 11:22 pm

My experience growing up was mostly in regards to it equating to a female dog. I only really heard it used as a pejorative by females calling others such at school, O, and if males thought other males were doing something feminine.

O, and "to b***h" too, meaning moaning, complaining, or whining about something.



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09 May 2012, 6:36 am

people in australia use that word casually? no. they dont. not in any positive way. its a derogatory term and very misogynistic when used in any context except for when it is used to refer to dogs. this is true even when its just used to describe people as bitching about things because the word is associated with feminine behaviour and gossip is seen as a lady thing. plus saying someone is their b***h is wrong because it is misogynistic and because it implies ownership of the person.