Dr. Goodword’s Language Blog

Pejorative Words for Women

Stephen Greenfield, a creative photographer in Cleveland, Tennesee yesterday came to the good Doctor with this problem:

“I’m trying to sort out what a male lover is called (not gigolo, boy toy, or pool boy) that corresponds to the feminine mistress, simply a female lover seen by a married man—not a kept woman, merely a woman a married man sees from time to time, sex just being a part of the equation.”

“What is the term when a married woman has an unmarried male lover? Geez, you would think that might have been settled long ago, but my research turns up nothing except debates about what is a mistress and long, dry dissertations written from a woman’s point-of-view of glass-ceilings, power, money, you name it, and they all claim it.”

The male lexical counterpart of mistress is master. Notice how this word has not developed in the same direction as mistress. Why not?

If I haven’t written on this topic before, I’ve discussed it for 30 years in my introductory linguistic courses. The fact of the matter is, English and most other Indo-European languages contains FAR more pejorative terms for women than for men. Notice that even two of the words for “lover” that Stephen cites, boy toy and pool boy, reflect pejoratively on the women who have them more so than on the toys and boys themselves. Gigolo is the exception because it refers to deceitful, unreliable men.

Let’s begin with a few relatively clean pejorative surrogates for woman: bimbo, cow, clothes-horse, crone, dog, fishwife, floozy, frump, hag, harlot, harpy, hussy, milf, moll, nag, prude, shrew, siren, skirt, spinster, tart, temptress, wench, witch, working girl. Prejudice against women is a flagrant characteristic of the English vocabulary.

There is no comparable list of pejorative words referring exclusively to men (i.e. not referring equally to men and women) that rivals this list. Of course, we can easily build a comparable list of pejoratives referring to homosexual men. However, they are accused precisely of being feminine by homosexophobes. This has long been an argument of the existence of a strongly male-dominated society.

Given this fact of English, why would we need a word referring to a male lover other than lover? Again, notice that a male lover is something to be admired unpejoratively while the pale penumbra of shame always hovers over the female lover.

13 Responses to “Pejorative Words for Women”

  1. Stargzer Says:

    How about Paramour? Alas, it, too, can be gender neutral.

    From OneLook
    ( )

    Quick definitions (paramour)

    ▸ noun: a woman’s lover
    ▸ noun: a woman who cohabits with an important man

    From the Online Etymology Dictionary
    ( )

    c.1300, noun use of adv. phrase par amour (c.1300) “passionately, with strong love or desire,” from Anglo-Fr. par amour, from acc. of amor “love.” Originally a term for Christ (by women) or the Virgin Mary (by men), it came to mean “darling, sweetheart” (c.1350) and “mistress, concubine, clandestine lover” (c.1386).

    From the AHD at Yahoo


    A lover, especially one in an adulterous relationship.

    Middle English, from par amour, by way of love, passionately, from Anglo-Norman : par, by (from Latin per; see per 1 in Indo-European roots) + amour, love (from Latin amor, from amare, to love)

    Wikipedia has this entry under “Mistress”
    ( )

    There is no specific word in English for a “male mistress”, a man in the same relationship to a woman as a mistress is to a man, except for the more general term “lover”, which does not carry the same implications. “Paramour” is sometimes used, but this term can apply to either partner in an illicit relationship, so it is not exclusively male. In 18th- and 19th-century Venice the terms “cicisbeo” and “cavalier servente” were used to describe a man who was the professed gallant and lover of a married woman.

  2. Ronald Christ Says:

    Spanish “querindonga”(“quierindongo”) to express “beloved” pejoratively; for example, the love interest of a married man might be referred to as “una querindonga” by his wife. The word has a fascinating etymomlogy, from a family name, I believe, but it’s too long to write here.
    As a translator, I wish I had at hand an English equivalent of “querindonga”.

  3. Philip Says:

    It is interesting that you leave out the word “broad.” Recently I had a sharp disagreement with my sister over whether or not the word carried a derogatory connotation. I held it did not while she thought it did.

    Should I take its absence from your list as your vote for my side? 🙂

  4. Dolly Fetcko Says:

    There is another word…”chick” for a cute woman. Or, “chickola” for an affectionate title.

  5. Girls rule, boys drool Says:

    How about dog (listed above as pertaining to women but seems like it is used now more for men), pig, man-[insert any number of perjoratives], jock strap, himbo, lech…the other terms that come to mind are not “clean” enough to list. True, there are more misogynistic terms but I would contend most could be applied equally and more comically to men. I dream of post-modern world where men can be stand on equal footing with women and also be called harlots and floozies.

  6. Ed Garvin Says:

    May I respectfully submit that the word you seek may be cicisbeo
    which I found at:

    Pronunciation: \chē-chəz-‘bā-(‘)ō\ Function: noun: lover , gallant, Inflected Form(s): plural cicisbei \-‘bā-ē\ Etymology: Italian Date: 1718— cicisbeism \-bā-i-zəm\ noun

    The second edition of the Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus gives on page 38 in the word finder at it’s center under archaic words : cicisbeo a married woman’s male companion or lover

    I submit this humbly and reluctantly because my passion for words has just flared in the last three or four years and I know I have much to learn. Before I retired I was one of those Science types, and we all know about them.

    In closing may I tell you how much I enjoy your “Word of the Day”. I look forward to it over breakfast every day. It’s my modest opinion that yours is the best one on the net. I wish I could have been in one of your classes.

    Thank you for your time, your words, and your insights.

    Ed Garvin

  7. C Freund Says:

    A few years ago – actually the fall of 1965 – I was taking an English Comp & Lit class as a freshman in undergrad school. While writing one paper I needed to use the term prostitute but felt that that particular word was not quite sufficiently refined for the topic at hand (makes one wonder at this point). So, my two roommates and I grabbed dictionaries and thesauruses – er, thesauri – er, we got out a thesausus, and then we got out another one, and began a dilligent search for an appropriate synonym. After about an hour we had found 57 suitable candidates with various nuances in meaning. Sorry, I do not remember which one I used in the paper.

  8. peter joel Says:

    More pejorative terms for men include: boofhead, unit, dawg, wimp, wuss, moush and yob, as well as the genital references ****head, etc.

  9. Wolfman Says:

    Pardon my ignorance but I couldn’t help but notice Mr. Garvin’s entry above about “cicisbeo” and the way it’s pronounced (per Webster). I speak Spanish fluently, not Italian, and so I would have thought cicisbeo would be pronounced like “see-sees-BAY-o” not “che-chez-bay-o”. Both languages are Romance languages so I guess I just figured they would use the patterns. Live and learn. Keep up the good work, Dr. Goodword!

  10. rbeard Says:

    In Italian ci and ce are pronounced chi and che, respectively, and gi and ge are prounced ji and je. To represent the hard pronunciations of these sounds, Italians insert an H, so that we know that ‘spaghetti’ is pronounced [spageti] and not [spajeti]. According to all the dictionaries and Dr. Goodword (the critical proof), English retains the Italian pronunciation of this rare and curious word.

  11. Wolfman Says:

    Thanks for the explanation rbeard! It really helps to know why some words are pronounced the way they are.

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  13. David Fillpot Says:

    lecherous adj.
    dirty old man

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