Wordwatch Towers

A plain language guide to punctuation, grammar and writing well.

Mutton dressed as lamb

with 6 comments

Mutton Dressed As Lamb

Image by LexnGer via Flickr

I’m looking for a word that describes a dirty, unkempt, unattractive or unfashionably dressed man.

It’s a tough one. The only word I can think of is ‘slob’ which is not male-specific.

OK, I give up, so let’s do something quick and easy instead: we’ll find some female-specific terms of abuse. That’s a much faster job and we’ll get to drink tea and eat cake all the sooner.

The following definitions are based on those given in the Oxford Dictionary of English (ODE). Most of the words are apparently perfectly fine to use as everyday expressions. A couple are generously noted by the feminist hotbed that is the ODE as ‘derogatory’. (We women get thrown a few lexicographical bones occasionally.)

Bag (usually ‘old bag’): A woman, especially an older one, who is unpleasant or unattractive. Not noted as derogatory. Helpful suggested use from the ODE: An interfering old bag.

Blowsy: Used to describe a woman who is coarse, untidy and red-faced. Not noted as derogatory.

Crone: An ugly old woman. Not noted as derogatory.

Dowdy: Typically used to refer to a woman who is dressed in an unfashionable or unstylish way. Not noted as derogatory. Helpful suggested use from the ODE: She could achieve the kind of casual chic which made every other woman around her look dowdy.

Frump: An unattractive woman who wears dowdy clothes. Not noted as derogatory.

Hag: An ugly old woman. Not noted as derogatory. The ODE really pushes the boat out when it comes to a suggested use for this one: A fat old hag in a dirty apron. Love the addition of ‘fat’, ‘old’ and ‘dirty apron’ there — as if just being called a hag isn’t quite insulting enough. In its enthusiasm to draw this vivid word picture the ODE has overlooked its tautological use of ‘old hag’. (In other words, if ‘hag’ already means an ‘old woman’ the addition of the word ‘old’ is redundant.)

Mutton (as in ‘mutton dressed as lamb’): An informal and (hold onto your hat) derogatory name for a woman dressed in a style suitable for a younger woman.

Scrubber: A coarse, scruffy, dirty (and, for good measure, promiscuous) woman. Keep hold of that hat: ‘scrubber’ is also noted as derogatory.

Slattern: A dirty and untidy woman. Noted as dated, but not derogatory.

Women described as animals – The Female of the Species


6 Responses

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  1. The term you want is “an Alan”. Unfortunately, as you don’t know the archetype, it’s not much help. . .


    11/06/2010 at 8:33 am

    • Hmm — I could think of a few male-specific proper nouns too…


      11/06/2010 at 8:47 am

  2. Wow, some of these I didn’t even know, nor did I even think about there only being such words for men. The closest I ever came to thinking about it is that ‘tramp’ means completely different things depending on the gender of the person.


    11/06/2010 at 3:12 pm

    • Hi, Lisa — yes, it’s interesting. I’ve been trying to find some definitive information about how many female-specific terms of abuse there are in the English language and how many male-specific ones there are. I’m sure somebody, somewhere has done the sums. And I’ll eat my hat while doing an impression of a banana if the female-specific ones don’t considerably outnumber the male-specific ones.

      I like your example of the word ‘tramp’ and how it changes meaning depending on the gender of the person. Very telling.


      11/06/2010 at 3:21 pm

  3. So. We have the great choice between being sexy, young chicks or ugly, fat muttons? Erh. Does the human hide behind the “or” then? And the ODE…some changes in the editorial board maybe? Gah.


    11/06/2010 at 9:54 pm

    • Hi, TaleTellerin — thanks for your comment. Yes, I find some of the stuff hidden away in the ODE quite breathtaking. And not in a good way.


      12/06/2010 at 7:54 am

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