Wordslut A feminist guide to taking back the English language

Amanda Montell

Book - 2019

The word bitch conjures many images for many people, but it is most often meant to describe an unpleasant woman. Even before its usage to mean a female canine, bitch didn't refer to gender at all--it originated as a gender-neutral word meaning genitalia. A perfectly innocuous word devolving into a female insult is the case for tons more terms, including hussy--which simply meant housewife--or slut, which meant an untidy person and was also used to describe men. These words are just a few among history's many English slurs hurled at women. Amanda Montell, reporter and feminist linguist, deconstructs language--from insults and cursing, gossip, and catcalling to grammar and pronunciation patterns--to reveal the ways it has been used ...for centuries to keep women and other marginalized genders from power. Ever wonder why so many people are annoyed when women talk with vocal fry or use the word like as a filler? Or why certain gender-neutral terms stick and others don't? Or where stereotypes of how women and men speak come from in the first place? Montell effortlessly moves between history, science, and popular culture to explore these questions and more--and how we can use the answers to effect real social change.

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2nd Floor 305.4/Montell Due Aug 8, 2024
New York : Harper Wave, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers [2019]
Main Author
Amanda Montell (author)
First edition
Physical Description
291 pages : illustrations ; 22 cm
  • Chapter 0. Meet sociolinguistics: what all the cool feminists are talking about
  • Chapter 1. Slutty skank hoes and nasty dykes: a comprehensive list of gendered insults i hate (but also kind of love?)
  • Chapter 2. Wait ... what does the word woman mean anyway?: plus other questions of sex, gender, and the language behind them
  • Chapter 3. "mm-hmm, girl, you're right": how women talk to each other when dudes aren't around
  • Chapter 4. Women didn't ruin the english language-they, like, invented it
  • Chapter 5. How to embarrass the shit out of people who try to correct your grammar
  • Chapter 6. How to confuse a catcaller (and other ways to verbally smash the patriarchy)
  • Chapter 7. Fuck it: an ode to cursing while female
  • Chapter 8. "Cackling" clinton and "sexy" scarjo: the struggle of being a woman in public
  • Chapter 9. Time to make this book just a little bit gayer
  • Chapter 10. Cyclops, panty puppet, bald-headed bastard (and 100+ other things to call your genitalia)
  • Chapter 11. So ... in one thousand years, will women rule the english language?
  • Acknowledgments
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Montell dishes up equal parts sparkle and bite in her debut, an exploration of feminist sociolinguistics. Montell sees the English-speaking world as being on the edge of a language revolution in terms of how gender is both talked about and understood. She takes a playful yet insightful approach--for example, explicating how supposedly neutral insults like nasty and bossy are actually gendered, but also noting that their acoustic properties make them fun to say and powerful to reclaim. Identifying young urban women and socially oppressed people as leading linguistic innovators and language pedantry as connected to a fear of social change, she explains the "social utility" of oft-scorned, feminine-coded speech characteristics such as vocal fry, uptalk, the use of the word like, and overlapping talk in conversation. She digs into language patterns arising from patriarchal dominance, including catcalling and mansplaining; affirms that modern linguists are on board with the singular they; and delights in the sound of profane language in her "ode to cursing while female." Montell projects an infectious glee about linguistics and feminism, foregrounding both their fun and their cultural relevance. Readers seeking a fresh, intellectually stimulating take on feminism will enjoy this one. Agent: Rachel Vogel, Dunow, Carlson & Lerner. (June)

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Review by Kirkus Book Review

A fresh look at how gender impacts language, loaded with strategies to alter the way people think about communication.In her debut, editor and linguist Montell sets a high bar, proving that linguistics plus feminism equals big fun. The infectious love of wordplay embedded in her work translates into a laugh-out-loud analysis and critique. Readers are invited to enter the realm of ever evolving speech habits and encouraged to consider their own thinking about language and power. With attention to global variations, the author substantively addresses the inherent ways communication patterns have misrepresented and sometimes failed women speakers of English throughout history. In addition to considering how feminism's language makeover may improve accuracy, Montell offers hilarious insights on such topics as how to confuse catcallers ("and other ways to verbally smash the patriarchy"), techniques for shutting down obsessive grammar correctors, and how to craft insults, talk dirty, and swear (while feminist). The author addresses the game-changing inroads made by academic feminists and writers from the 1970s to the 1990s while also candidly documenting their shortcomings, and she sets the path and pace for reshaping language use with equity in mind. She explores how young women's speech patterns often influence future directions and examines how some frequently criticized adaptations, like hedging and uptalk, serve distinct social purposes. Montell also analyzes how everything from women's word choices to voices are policed and coached. She unpacks these biases while debunking related advice that describes itself as empowering' while encouraging girls and women to change. Grounded in decades of innovative feminist scholarship, full of witty personal stories, and written with the pragmatic aim of disrupting and changing the status quo, this is a humorous and important book for anyone interested in gender equality, wordplay, or fostering precise communication.Just the kind of sharp, relevant scholarship needed to continue to inspire the next generation of feminist thought. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.