Huffpost Women

An Honest Dictionary Of Words Used To Describe Women

Posted: Updated:
Print Article
185310699
Lisa Howard via Getty Images

When it comes to talking about women, "saying what you mean" and "meaning what you say" don't always have much in common. Words like "b*tchy" and "slutty" are clearly sexist and meant to insult, but even seemingly neutral adjectives have become euphemisms for "uniquely female character flaw."

Used by both men and women, these words are the linguistic equivalents of wolves in sheeps' clothing, often disguised as flattery while used to subtly undermine the woman being described. It's time to strip them down.

Below is a brief compendium of adjectives that are often used to describe women -- and what they really mean:

Bossy: Has on one or more occasion suggested that someone, man or woman, has made a factual error. (Related, know-it-all)

Clingy: Describes a woman who insists on responding to a partner's cues of romance, intimacy and commitment by reciprocating them.

Cold: Used to describe a woman who does not smile enough, or whose resting face does not suggest joyous contentment.

Crazy: Attributes women's behavior to an error in reason independent of speaker's actions, thereby dismissing her feelings as irrational, "while simultaneously absolving ... men from responsibility." A label most women seek to avoid at all costs.

Cute: Used among men when referring to an attractive woman whose intellectual and comedic allure happen to be more pronounced than her conventional sex appeal.

Exotic: Mainstream media's preferred adjective for a non-white female who is also beautiful.

Feisty: Feisty is sassy with a better resume. It's essentially results-based sass, invoked to acknowledge the achievement and/or ambition of a woman, while also warning against it. Remarkably useful to misogynists, "feisty" implies enough aggression to diminish a woman's accomplishment without completely dismissing it. (Related, sassy)

High-maintenance: Wears makeup and/or requires regular attention from significant other. (Related, low-maintenance)

Intense: Applies to women who express their feelings, opinions and expectations freely, and politely excuse suitors not up to matching them.

Laid back/chill: Deeper implication than "casual or relaxed in manner." Often a celebration of a woman's ability to sublimate the emotional excesses of her gender. A woman who is "chill" reacts to her male friend or partner's questionable behavior the way he wants her to -- usually, not at all. Related to the "cool girl" as referenced in Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl.

Low-maintenance:
1. Used to describe a woman willing to repress her own needs in order to make no demands on her current or desired partner.
2. A woman who is not interested enough in said partner to make demands. (Related, high-maintenance)

Peppy/Bubbly: Describes an attractive woman with nicely-balanced serotonin levels. Use patronizingly when referring to women whose friendliness and enthusiasm you find annoying.

Perky: Identifies a well-rested, usually petite woman.

Prude: A woman who doesn't engage in whatever romantic or sexual encounter a man has suggested. Use liberally when said woman is not excessively apologetic about her lack of sexual experience or interest therein.

Pushy: Most recently, used to describe a remarkably accomplished woman whose high standards and willingness to insist on them aggressively just kinda rubs colleagues the wrong way. (Related, bossy)

Sassy: An adjective used to describe a woman with a personality. (See, personality: broad spectrum of verbal behavior spanning "is not clinically mute" and "enjoys humor," all the way to "expresses an opinion.") Serves to attribute a woman's comedic or intellectual superiority to a specifically feminine trait rather than actual competence. Related, sassy black woman: Describes self-reliant African-American woman with strength of character. Close association with "angry black woman."

Sweet: Used to indicate a general lack of sass or feistiness. Frequently serves to co-opt a woman's kindness in order to present her as intellectually inferior.

Also on HuffPost:

6 Ridiculous Products That Make Women Less "Gross"
of
Share
Tweet
Advertisement
Share this
close
Current Slide

Suggest a correction

Around the Web

sexist language - definition and examples of sexist language

7 Cowardly Words From A Totally Sexist Stranger Sparked This ...

Michelle Obama Supports Campaign to Ban 'Sexist' Words - Infowars

11 Ways To Avoid Sounding Like a Sexist Jerk–Even If You're ... - Time

Being funny doesn't have to mean being sexist. That goes for rape jokes, too

Tina Brown Uses Bad Sexist Cliches To Describe Sexist Lewinsky Scandal

Sexist jokes: Am I the only one losing my sense of humour?

Heather Graham: Hollywood 'totally sexist,' 80% of films about men