While I believe that words can be reclaimed, and even though some of my female friends feel that it is the case of the word "bitch", which they feel able to use in a positive way, I still find it hurtful and offensive, whether it is meant as a synonym for "woman" or as a straightforward insult. However, this article by Kate Figes in today’s Guardian might help me change my mind, and in particular the following quote from the US feminist magazine BITCH:

When it’s being used as an insult, bitch is an epithet hurled at women who speak their minds, who have opinions and do not shy away from expressing them and who do not sit by and smile uncomfortably if they are bothered or offended. If being an outspoken woman means being a bitch, we will take that as a compliment, thanks.

By |2016-10-18T15:50:04+00:00January 26th, 2007|Words|10 Comments

About the Author:

I am Céline Graciet, a freelance English to French translator. Since 2003 I’ve been writing on all sorts of areas linked to translation and the life of a translator.


  1. language hat January 26, 2007 at 3:11 pm

    Both my wives have loved and frequently used the word “bitch”; as a Sensitive Feminist Male (TM), I used to be bothered by it, but now I’m quite used to it, though I don’t tend to use it myself. I’m all for reclamation, as long as it’s practiced by the directly affected group.

  2. boo January 26, 2007 at 11:55 pm

    “bitch is an epithet hurled at women who speak their minds, who have opinions and do not shy away from expressing them”
    No, expressing opinions per se has nothing to do with it. Expressing them in a malicious or treacherous manner has everything to do with it.
    If anyone takes the word back, it will be the likes of Paris Hilton, whom I’ve seen use it as a female version of “dude.”

  3. Xavier Kreiss January 27, 2007 at 12:18 am

    Humpty Dumpty (Alice in Wonderland pu it rather well):
    “When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, `it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

  4. Xavier Kreiss January 27, 2007 at 12:19 am

    Apologies for the typos…

  5. Mago January 27, 2007 at 9:32 am

    I’ve noticed a particular and peculiar meaning for “bitch” (related perhaps to the “outspoken” connotation you cite) that seems to be well-established in the U.S., namely “a woman whose politics I strongly disagree with”.

  6. Bela January 29, 2007 at 12:10 am

    Are all the previous commenters men? I hope so – female chauvinist pigs infuriate me even more than male ones (there is no such thing as a feminist male, btw) – but I’m afraid I’m not terribly interested in what men think about a subject that doesn’t concern them in any way.
    The Reverend Dodgson said a lot of insightful things but that Humpty Dumpty quote wasn’t one of them.
    I don’t know, and I don’t care, what that airhead Paris Hilton’s going to do but *I* will embrace my inner bitch from now on.

  7. céline January 29, 2007 at 9:29 am

    I agree with Bela that the likes of Paris Hilton will never help with reclaiming the word ‘bitch’; they use it in the same way that, say, a rapper in a video would, and are just joining the pack of the powerful and using the word in its negative sense instead of making it theirs. And I don’t really understand the Humpty Dumpty quote, which seems to naively trivialise the issue, but I know Xavier is too careful a user of language to try and oversimplify a very complex linguistic argument.
    The best-read, most thought-provoking and passionate feminist I know is a man. I’ve never asked him whether he considers himself a feminist, I just took it for granted from our discussions. Hopefully he’ll chip in when he gets a minute.

  8. Bela January 30, 2007 at 6:43 pm

    On the contrary, I think Xavier has allowed us to catch a glimpse of what he truly believes, haven’t you, Xavier?
    Re. feminist… males (ugh, I can hardly bring myself to type those two words together): I’m a ’70s feminist (I didn’t actually belong to the M.L.F. but I was a member of it in spirit) so, as far as I’m concerned, the expression is an oxymoron.
    Some men may be full of the ‘right’ ideas but, in my experience anyway, it doesn’t take much for them to revert to type. Like their woman earning more than *they* do, for instance.

  9. Xavier Kreiss February 5, 2007 at 3:27 pm

    “Xavier has allowed us to catch a glimpse of what he truly believes”: you saw that in a simple quote taken from Lewis Carroll? Bela, I congratulate you on your mind reading skills. But beware: exercises of this kind are risky, and you may have “read my mind” the wrong way. I can’t tell, because I don’t know what you mean.
    So this is what I believe: certain words are potent, but whether they are felt to be hurtful and insulting or “worn” as a badge of pride can be a matter of choice, or personal judgement. That choice is what I mean when I quote the eggman: a word “means just what I choose it to mean”.
    You can choose to feel insulted. This what most women would (understandably) do.
    Or you can say, in effect, “well, if what I am makes someone call me a bitch, so be it: I’m proud of what I am, so I’m proud of being called one”. This seems to be the choice of the women who run the Bitch magazine and website. I wish them well in the “reclamation” bid.
    For the moment, though, it seems that the word is still, in most cases, insulting, or meant to be.
    “An epithet hurled at women who speak their minds” ? In some cases, perhaps, but not exclusively. It’s certainly “hurled at women”, but for all sorts of reasons, and in all sorts of different circumstances. And, of course, it can be (and often is) “hurled” by other women.
    But surely, in many cases the meaning (promiscuous, calculating, duplicitous, spiteful etc) has become somewhat diluted, from being so often used? It now seems, mostly, to be a kind of cath-all word, a female equivalent of “bastard”.
    Others may disagree. I’d be surprised if they didn’t ! Life would be very dull if people always agreed with one another.

  10. Bela February 6, 2007 at 6:02 pm

    Oh, I’m not a mind reader: I only ever talk about what I know, from experience.
    Thanks for the essay. As I said before, I’m not really interested in what men think about the subject, just like I’m sure they couldn’t care less whether I think they should reclaim the words ‘jerk’ or ‘bastard’, for instance. All I can say is that the men I have applied those words to in the past deserved them – amply.

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