“On land it’s much prefered for ladies not to say a word”

In Language on November 11, 2010 at 5:41 am

Well, I said that I was done with my language series but the thing with languages is that there are so many words and phrases that you always leave something out.  I feel like these terms are old-fashioned but I have heard them uttered from younger lips as well, which I find odd, probably because I never heard them while growing up.  I decided, since I don’t know the origins of these words, why not look them up?

Chatty Cathy started out as a doll in the 1960s that talked when you pulled a string on her back. This name was most likely used by someone in print or something and it caught on, to refer to women who talk a lot or ‘chatter’.  Chatter in and of itself usually has a negative connotation because it refers to people who talk simply for the sake of talking but it’s mostly noise or silly stuff, which is how men view female conversation.  Society for the most part thinks, or at least used to when this term first came about, that women shouldn’t really speak their mind, or should defer to men when they were present.  In Disney’s “Little Mermaid”, Ursula the sea witch is pushing Ariel to make a choice about becoming human – she has to give up her voice and would never see her family again (if all goes according to plan) – but she’d have ‘her man’ says Ursula and losing one’s voice isn’t a big deal because men don’t really like her girls who talk, besides she still has her ‘pretty face’ and ‘body language’…hence girls who talk a lot = Chatty Cathy.

Debbie Downer was a character on the TV show Saturday Night Live that aired in 2004, but I don’t know if the term was used before this.  I’m not sure what the show was about, but considering the name, which refers to anyone who’s a downer – as in they usually have a way to dampen the mood with their cynical comments – it was about a woman who was most likely depressing to listen to.  Negative Nancy is pretty similar, though they’re probably more pessimistic than cynical, becuase when people are cynical they usually apply somewhat obscure explanations about life to situations. 

I didn’t find anything for the Negative Nancy term, but it’s not that important because this blog is more focused on the fact that all these negative terms are associated with women.  We don’t have things like Chatty Charlie, Dylan Downer, or Negative Ned (at least not that I’ve heard).  And why is that? Because when it comes to language women usually get the shorter end of the stick. And then the overall reason is that women aren’t seen as equals to men, because if we were, well, then there’d probably be an equal number of insults for men and women.   

It’s interesting because we often use words or terms without even being aware of their origins or of their sticky meanings; hysteria for example, and gypped, but I’ll discuss those another time.  Perhaps if people are not aware of their meanings, it doesn’t really matter, because then there is no offense involved, however, Chatty Cathy, Debbie Downer, and Negative Nancy are obviously less than flattering ways to refer to someone and they are obviously used with female names.  Women are trapped in a negative limelight within the English language.


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