Printable Version
Pronunciation: tahm-gêrl Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. Sissy, a boy who dresses and acts in a girlish manner. 2. Tomboy, a girl who dresses and acts in a boyish manner.

Notes: This word really shouldn't be any more offensive than its antonym, tomboy but, because male effeminacy is considered worse than female manliness, it probably carries a tinge of insult. The adjective is tomgirlish and the noun, tomgirlishness. Tomgirls are not necessarily gay.

In Play: Tomgirl has so recently been used in the first sense that this sense is not even listed in most dictionaries: "I don't want Tim on our team because he throws a baseball like a tomgirl." In the opposite sense, "tomboy", the word has been used like this: "Maisey was a golden tomgirl with a boy's taste for sports and fishing."

Word History: Today's Good Word emerged in the late 19th century in the sense "tomboy". It was used only in this sense until quite recently. It is a compound noun, obviously, comprising tom + girl, paralleling tomcat and tomfool. Tom, like Jack, is a generic word for "man, boy", as in 'every Tom, Dick, and Harry'. In fact, this phrase has morphed since the 17th century, when it started out as 'every Tom, Jack, and Harry'. Girl has been the object of many long attempts at setting out its etymology. One proposes an unrecorded Old English ancestor gyrele, but for a word with such a common meaning not to be recorded anywhere is unlikely. Another tries to derive it from Old English gyrela "garment", and girl is still used to refer to a child of either sex in the Irish English of Wexford. However, this explanation is equally unlikely. (Gratitude is due our old South African friend Chris Stewart for suggesting today's old Good Word with a new meaning.)

Dr. Goodword,

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