07/21/2014 09:40 am ET Updated Jul 21, 2014

In Praise Of Broads

Mike Coppola via Getty Images

Like a lot of theater fans, I've been mourning the death of brassy Broadway legend Elaine Stritch. It means there’s one less fabulous, foul-mouthed, talented, gin-swilling broad on this earth. "You can't be funny unless you're tragic,” Strich once said, “and you can't be tragic unless you're funny." It’s a perfect piece of Broad Philosophy: an earthy, basic understanding of life’s ups and downs, and knowing that the only way to cope is to laugh.

I suddenly realized that nobody uses the word “broad” much anymore (save for the broads of Broad City, of course). The origins of this word are hazy, too. Some claim it refers to women’s hips being broader than a man’s, or that it refers to playing cards or meal tickets. (Hence the association with prostitution.) Later, broads were synonymous with floozies, and loud-mouthed, vulgar women. When Frank Sinatra used it in Guys and Dolls, the term was elevated a bit, but it still had the whiff of impropriety.

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