• virago •
Pronunciation: vê-rah-go • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: We rarely encounter words whose meanings vary according to the gender of the speaker, but today's Good Word is one. To some women, this word means "a strong, heroic, courageous woman; a female warrior." Men, on the other hand, tend to consider viragos female bullies, vociferous scolds or shrews, or just domineering women. The difference is mainly one of the speaker's attitude toward strong women.
Notes: We still haven't decided how to spell the plural of this word, so both viragos and viragoes are acceptable. Keep in mind that this word has not lost its Latin pronunciation of the middle A as [ah].
In Play: Unfortunately, women still have to be 'pushy' to go where men go: "Margie wouldn’t be the president of this company today if she weren’t a very smart virago." The fact remains that some males continue to hold a negative view of women who exhibit the same characteristics applauded in men: "That virago who recently took over the president's office won't listen to a thing I tell her."
Word History: Virago is the translation of the Hebrew word for "woman" in Genesis 2:23 of the Latin Vulgate Bible, a fifth century translation. The King James version of the same passage reads: "And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man." Early English translations simply lifted the Latin word. The Latin word comprises vir "man" + an odd suffix. It was probably used because the Hebrew word for "man", unlike the Latin, sounds like the word for "woman". The original Proto-Indo-European word which led to vir in Latin became Old English wer "man", visible today only in the word for the man-wolf, werewolf. (We are happy that Maureen Koplow is enough of a virago to bring the subtleties of this Good Word to our attention.)