Origin of English Words Research Paper

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origin of words: Faggot, catty, slag and bitch

Slang, particularly slang that is used to insult people, is often quite difficult to decipher in terms of how the words took on a particular meaning. Often a seemingly innocent word can take on negative associations over time in a manner that eventually conceals its origins to speakers. With this in mind, I chose four words today that could be semantically classified as epithets: faggot, catty, slag and bitch.

The word 'faggot' has always perplexed me. I have often heard this word used to describe someone who is gay in derogatory terms in America. According to the OED, the origin of the word 'faggot' is "a bundle of sticks, twigs, or small branches of trees bound together" for kindling. How did this become associated with sexuality? The origin of the word in the OED provides some insight. Because of the word's association with starting a fire, 'faggot' began to be associated with heresy. Its second meaning is cited as "with special reference to the practice of burning heretics alive, esp. In phrase fire and faggot; to fry a faggot, to be burnt alive; also, to bear a faggot, to carry a faggot, as those did who renounced heresy.
" It was also used to refer to a patch heretics had to wear embroidered on their sleeves to indicate their status. (Hence the compound word faggot-bearer). Then it began to be used as an insult against a woman (presumably because women were often accused of witchcraft) and gradually became applied to male homosexuals.

The second word I chose was 'catty.' I often hear this word used as a synonym for being petty, small-minded, and gossipy -- but only in reference to women. As the name implies, this word holds associations between femininity and felines. The OED defines catty as "pertaining to cats; concerned with the breeding or exhibiting of cats." However, I have never heard it used to refer to a cat exhibition and, in fact, the real-life examples of catty used in the OED all refer to nastiness amongst women, not cats. For example, Agatha Christie in the ABC Murders wrote that "women…are a bit catty about other women." Cattish is another word that associates….....

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