Printable Version
Pronunciation: kween Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. A floozy, hussy, harlot, slut, slattern, strumpet, tart, or any bold, impudent girl or woman. 2. An effeminate gay. (Queen is an understandable US misspelling in this sense.) 3. As always, Scotland is the exception: in some of its dialects a quean is a normal young girl.

Notes: What a difference an A makes! The semantic spread between queen and quean could not be greater, from a woman of the highest repute to one of the lowest. The adjective queanish (adverb queanishly) means "like a quean, in a queanly manner". Queanry is the stuff queans are made of.

In Play: This lexical golden oldie can lead to some very humorous misunderstandings if not used with care: "Heidi Fleiss was the queen of Hollywood queans until her arrest." The possibilities for wordplay are endless: "La cage aux folles is a hilarious movie set in a night club that sponsors a nightly beauty quean pageant."

Word History: In Old English cwene "woman" and cwen "queen" were pronounced differently even though they were derived from the same Old Germanic word, kweniz. The root of this word goes back to Proto-Indo-European gwen- "woman", which emerged in Greek as gyne "woman", the root of English gynecology. In Russian the same PIE word emerged as zhena "wife" and, in Persian, zan "woman". In Swedish kvinna, Norwegian kvinne, and Danish kvinde, all from the same PIE word, mean "woman". In Irish Gaelic the PIE word became bean "woman", which is used with sdhe "fairy" in the phrase bean sdhe "wailing female spirit". English collapsed this phrase into one word: banshee.

Dr. Goodword,

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