Saturday, February 16, 2008

Patriarchal linguistics

As though the nuances of the English language weren't beautiful enough, today I'm greeted with this little gem. The word of the day is virago:

virago \vuh-RAH-go; vuh-RAY-go\, noun:

1. A woman of extraordinary stature, strength, and courage.
2. A woman regarded as loud, scolding, ill-tempered, quarrelsome, or overbearing.

The intrepid heroines range from Unn the Deep Minded, the Viking virago who colonized Iceland, to Sue Hendrikson, a school dropout who became one of the great experts on amber, fossils and shipwrecks.
-- Ann Prichard, "Coffee-table: Africa, cathedrals, animals, 'Sue'", USA Today, November 28, 2001
This virago, this madwoman, finally got to me, and I was subjected to the most rude, the most shocking violence I can remember.
-- José Limón, An Unfinished Memoir

Virago comes from Latin virago, "a man-like woman, a female warrior, a heroine" from vir, "a man."

I find it almost aggravatingly amusing that this should be the case; where else but in a male-dominated society would one find such a dichotomous use of a female moniker? The word of the day may as well have been "bitch" (said, of course, with a contented sigh).

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