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Bluestockings to Bimbos

Our Heritage Lottery funded project 

Personal reflections on names for women in words and textiles


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Our Heritage lottery funded project explored the fascinating history of names for women throughout the ages.

What’s in a name? Why was an educated woman called a ‘Bluestocking’? And what is the difference between a Doxie and a Popsie ….  a Strumpet or a Shrew?

Throughout history, girls and women have been called many things … and it’s still happening today!

(Cougar, Pram-face, Four-by-Four, to name but a few).  

And why are so many of these names frankly, insulting?


The Field Theatre Group hosted a series of workshops to explore these themes. The workshops were held at the Haddenham Art Centre and the Adams Heritage Centre in Littleport. The workshops were free and open to all.

Our participants ranged from professional artists, experienced crafters and complete textile novices.

We are indebted to them for their original and thought-provoking contributions to this project. 

Stitching our stories  together

The Bluestockings to Bimbos textile piece

Field Theatre artist Jennifer Stevens led participants in the creation of the textile work. Participants were guided in the creation of the individual panels that make up the textile work.

The panels commemorate all kinds of women: from fearsome warrior queens, to sex-workers; social reformers to condemned felons.

We are extremely proud of the work created with our participants.

The panels encompass a great variety of subjects with ingenuity and inventiveness. This work captures many different responses from our participants; from compassion and anger ….  to humour and irony.

Jennifer Stevens, joint creative-lead. Bluestockings to Bimbos.  

The Bluestockings to Bimbos Lexicon of names, words and terms for women.

It seems that society will never tire of coining names, phrases and terms to define WOMEN. In the course of the 2022 Bluestockings to Bimbos project, writer Deb Curtis and our participants have explored a great many of them.  The names in this lexicon span thousands of years of history, from the classical era to the present-day. Some date back over hundreds of years, while others (cougar, pram-face, four-by-four, birth-giver), are entirely contemporary. You’ll find some that will leave you puzzled, many may make you laugh, while others are bound to offend! While compiling this selection we came across very few that are flattering or affirmative!

We have used standard modern dictionary definitions of all words and names in this publication.


Babe (Slang)

  1. A girl or woman, especially an attractive one.

  2. Sometimes Disparaging and Offensive

  3. Sometimes an affectionate or familiar term of address. Offensive when used to strangers, casual acquaintances, subordinates, etc., (especially by a male to a female).


Baby-mother (Slang) UK. (Baby-mamma) 21stC.

A woman who bears a child. Especially as a result or a casual or informal relationship with the father.  Where it is understood that the father has little or no involvement in the child’s rearing. E.g.,  ‘She’s my baby-mother’ ....  ‘one of my baby-mothers.’


Baggage Archaic. (bag)

  1. A worthless woman.

  2. A prostitute or disreputable woman.

  3. A pert, playful young woman or girl: ‘a pretty baggage; a saucy baggage.’

ORIGIN: Possibly military. Women often accompanied troops in the ‘baggage train’ to provide services such as cooking, laundry and/or sexual services.


Ball-breaker (Slang)

A person, esp. a woman, whose character and behaviour may be regarded as threatening a man’s sense of power or self-esteem.

ORIGIN  20thC. From ball (in the sense: testicle) + breaker 


Bathing beauty noun.

An attractive woman in a bathing suit, especially an entrant in a beauty contest.

20th C.


Battleaxe noun. (Slang) 

  1. A domineering, aggressive, sharp-tempered person, especially a woman

  2. A broadax formerly used as a weapon of war.

ORIGIN 1350–1400; Middle English batelax.


Beldam noun.

  1. An old woman, especially an ugly one.

  2. Grandmother (Obsolete).

ORIGIN 15th C: from bel- grand (as in grandmother), from Old French bel beautiful, from Latin bellus + dam mother, variant of dame.


Belle noun.

  1. A woman or girl admired for her beauty and charm.

ORIGIN Feminine of bellus (Latin) fine, good-looking. 



  1. Ill-natured older female.

  2. The besom or broomstick associated with witches and witchcraft


Bint noun. British Slang: Disparaging and Offensive.

  1.  Contemptuous term used to refer to a woman or girl.

ORIGIN  Arabic: ‘girl’ ‘daughter.’)

This term is used with disparaging intent and perceived as insulting. Originally British military slang, later adopted by Allied servicemen during both world wars.


Bimbo Noun.   (Slang) (bim·bette)

An attractive but stupid young woman.

ORIGIN 20th C: from Italian: ‘little child.’ (Perhaps via Polari).



1.Young bird, chick.

  1. Young woman, attractive woman.

ORIGIN First recorded before 900; Middle English byrd, bryd. (Slang) 20thC.



Thought to be ‘more inclusive’ than ‘mother.’ ‘Mother’ in this instance is deemed to be potentially problematic for trans men who may be giving birth.

ORIGIN A term adopted by some UK NHS Trusts for those entering maternity care.



  1. A female dog (literal meaning).

  2. A malicious, unpleasant, selfish person, especially a woman.

  3. A lewd woman.

  4. Disparaging and Offensive. Any woman.

ORIGIN and derivation: Originally, ‘Bitch’ simply meant a female dog, and it still does. But around the year 1400, it gained currency as a disparaging term for a woman, specifically ‘a lewd or sensual woman’, then later ‘a malicious or unpleasant woman.’

The word is first found used this way in the Chester Plays of the 1400s, which has the line ‘Who callest thou queine, skabde biche?’
(Who are you calling a whore, you miserable bitch?)

By the 1800s, Bitch was considered ‘the most offensive appellation that can be given to an English woman.’ It was so offensive that people began to use euphemisms for the literal meaning (such as ‘lady dog’ and ‘she dog.’)
Bitch has evolved to have several additional meanings.

  1. Bitching: (Verb) to moan or complain)

  2. To bungle something (to ‘bitch something up’);

  3. Riding in an uncomfortable position in a car (‘sitting bitch’). When used in any of these ways, it's more slang than vulgarity,

It is interesting to note that Bitch has been reclaimed by some women as a self-referential term of empowerment.


Blowen (Slang, archaic)



Bolter (20th century)

  1. A person who ends his or her affiliations

  2. A horse given to running away

  3. A selfish, unreliable woman, especially one who leaves, (or runs way from) her marriage and/or family commitments.

‘The prospect of becoming a bolter, while clearly terrifying for Fanny and Linda, is also, on some level, deeply alluring.’ (Anna Russell, The New Yorker, 27 July 2021.)


Broad (Slang) USA. 20th C.

  1. A term used to refer to a woman.

  2. A promiscuous woman.

When used to refer to a woman, broad is usually perceived as insulting. The meaning ‘promiscuous woman’ is probably the earlier sense.


Bunny (Slang) 20th C. Sometimes Disparaging and Offensive 

A pretty, appealing, or alluring young woman

Often applied to a sport or similar activity: ‘beach bunny’; ‘ski bunny.’

The meaning ‘pretty woman’ is sometimes used with disparaging intent and perceived as insulting. For instance, a beach bunny is an alluring female who frequents the beach only to meet male surfers. But bunny was originally (and still is) used as a term of endearment for a girl or young woman.


Bunny-boiler Noun. (Slang)

 A person, esp. a woman, who is considered to be emotionally unstable and likely to be dangerously vengeful.

ORIGIN 20th C.: from the 1987 film Fatal Attraction, in which a female character boils a pet rabbit to terrorize the family of the lover who spurns her.


Chick (Slang)

A girl or young woman.

As a term used to refer to a young woman, chick is slightly dated. Originally it was perceived as insulting because of the perception that it infantilized women. Now the name has been embraced by some women as a positive term of self-reference and an expression of camaraderie. When used as a modifier, as in chick flick and chick lit, its meaning is not restricted to young women and its use is not offensive.


Chit Noun.

A child or young person, especially a pert girl.

ORIGIN: 1350–1400; for sense of ‘the young of an animal’; 1615–25 for current sense; Middle English; perhaps akin to kitten or kid.

Concubine Noun

  1. A woman who cohabits with a man without being married.

  2. A woman having status in a household below that of a wife.

  3. Mistress. 

ORIGIN Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Latin concubin, from cubare to lie). First recorded 14th century.


Cougar Informal. 

An older woman who seeks sexual relationships with much younger men.

ORIGIN: The origin of cougar as a slang term is debated, but it is thought to have originated in Western Canada. It first appeared in print on the Canadian dating website It has also been stated to have originated in Vancouver, British Columbia, as a put-down for older women who would go to bars and go home with whoever was left at the end of the night.
The term has been variously applied to middle-aged women who pursue sexual relations with men.

The cougar concept has been used in television shows, advertising, and film. The 2007 film Cougar Club was dedicated to the subject. The 2009 sitcom Cougar Town originally explored the difficulty and stigma of many so-called cougars.

What is the difference between a Cougar and Puma?

A puma is a younger version of the cougar. Both terms just refer to women. A puma is often regarded as a woman under 40 who prefers younger men, while a cougar is often used for women in their 40s and 50s. Both seek out younger men who are at least ten years younger than themselves. There has been much debate about whether the term is viewed as ‘a triumph for women,’ or ‘a disastrous setback.’

See also: ‘cougar bait’ noun (Informal)

A younger man who is often pursued by older women seeking a sexual relationship.  



A woman or girl who attracts the attention and admiration of men for mere self-gratification; a flirt.



A prostitute with a wealthy or upper-class clientele.
ORIGIN Middle French courtesan (female courtier). Latin cohort. The first recorded reference to courtesan is 1533.


Cow (Slang) Disparaging and Offensive.

  1. A contemptible woman, especially one who is fat, stupid, lazy, etc.: (for example ‘She's an ugly cow.’)

  2. A woman who has a large number of children or is frequently pregnant.


Crone noun

A withered, witchlike old woman.

ORIGIN 1350–1400; Middle English; Middle Dutch (croonie ‘old ewe’); Old North French (caronie literally ... ‘carrion’).


  1. A matronly woman of advanced age; matron.

  2. A term used to refer to a woman: (Slang) Sometimes Offensive. USA.

‘Some dame cut me up and almost caused an accident.’

  1. The title of a nun in certain orders.

ORIGIN 1175–1225; Middle English (Old French) Latin domina, feminine of dominus lord, master

 Dame is sometimes perceived as insulting when used to refer generally to a woman, unless it is a woman of rank or advanced age.


Damsel Noun. 

A young woman or girl; a maiden, originally one of gentle or noble birth.

ORIGIN Old French damoisele)


Daughter Noun.

  1. A female child or person in relation to her parents.

  2. Any female descendant.

  3. A person related as if by the ties binding daughter to parent: daughter of the church.

  4. Anything personified as female and considered with respect to its origin:
    ‘The United States is the daughter of the 13 colonies.’

  5. Chemistry, Physics. an isotope formed by radioactive decay of another isotope.


Den mother Informal. 

A (usually older) woman who serves as an adviser or protector to a group of people.


Dowager Noun.

  1. An elderly woman of stately dignity, especially one of elevated social position.

  2. A woman who holds title or property from her deceased husband.

ORIGIN 1520–30; <Middle French douag(i)ere


Diva Noun. 

  1. A distinguished female singer; prima donna.

  2. A woman with an exaggerated sense of her own importance and worth.

 ORIGIN dīva, feminine of dīvus god; cf. divine


Dolly bird (UK) 20th C. Informal (dolly, dolly-bird, doll)

An attractive young woman, especially one whose intellect is rather less in evidence than her good looks.


Drab Noun. (Archaic)

  1. A dirty, untidy woman; slattern.

  2. A prostitute.

ORIGIN  14thC. Possibly Old Dutch, drab ‘dregs.’  



A watchful and strict woman; duenna.


Dyke noun (Slang) Disparaging and Offensive.

A contemptuous term used to refer to a lesbian.

ORIGIN First recorded in 1940–45. obscure origin; possibly a contraction of morphodyke (variant of morphodite, a reshaping of hermaphrodite).


Essex girl Derogatory (UK) 

  1. A female (usually young) viewed as promiscuous, uncultured and unintelligent.

  2. A variation on the ‘dumb blonde/bimbo persona.’

ORIGIN: 1980s and 1990s. There are many references in print to Essex girls’ characteristics. For example, their ‘Estuary English’ accents (broadly regarded as unrefined). Much comment has been made about their appearance and style of dress (white stiletto heels, mini-skirts, silicone-enhanced  breasts, blonde-streaked hair, fake tans). They are often characterised as ‘promiscuous’, ‘loud’ and ‘vulgar.’

Time magazine recorded: ‘There is a special place reserved for the Essex Girl. A lady from London’s eastern suburbs who dresses in white strappy sandals and suntan oil. She streaks her hair blonde, holidays in Ibiza and perfects an air of ‘tarty prettiness.’

In 2004, Bob Russell, Liberal Democrat MP for Colchester in Essex, appealed for a debate in the House of Commons on the issue, encouraging a boycott of The People tabloid, which has printed several derogatory references to girls from Essex.

The Essex Women’s Advisory Group was set up in 2010 to combat the negative stereotyping of girls living in Essex. The group supports several Essex-based women’s charities and funds projects that promote women and girl’s education and careers in the fields of science, technology, the arts, sports and business. The charitable fund is administered by the Essex Community Foundation.

On 6 October 2016, Juliet Thomas and Natasha Sawkins of The Mother Hub launched a social media campaign to draw attention to the negative definition of the Essex girl in the Oxford English Dictionary and Collins Dictionary. Their main goal was to raise awareness and to open a dialogue around the derogatory ‘Essex girl’ stereotype. Their campaign centred around changing the definition of ‘Essex girl’ to ‘a girl from or living in Essex’ by encouraging women to use the hashtag #IAmAnEssexGirl. The campaign, which reached the national press, included a petition to change or remove the derogatory dictionary definitions.


Femme fatale (French)

1.An irresistibly attractive woman.

2.A woman who lures men into difficult, dangerous, or disastrous situations; siren.

ORIGIN Literally, ‘deadly woman’)


Filly (French, fille) (Slang)

  1. A young female horse usually of less than four years

  2. A young woman, girl.


Fishwife (Fishwife *fish-fag or fish lass)

A loud, unpleasant woman.

Fishwives were notoriously strident and foul-mouthed (as noted in the expression, To swear like a fishwife.) Fishwives in fishing villages (such as Cullercoats and Newhaven) were also noted for their beauty, hardiness and industry, and were celebrated by artists and royalty.

London’s traditional fish market was frequented by such types who were known as ‘the wives of Billingsgate’.

‘They dressed in strong 'stuff' gowns and quilted petticoats; their hair, caps and bonnets were flattened into one indistinguishable mass upon their heads. ... They smoked small pipes of tobacco, took snuff, drank gin and were known for their colourful language.’

In the eighteenth century, fishwives frequently appeared in satires as fearsome scourges of fops and foreigners. For example, in Isaac Cruikshank’s ‘A New Catamaran Expedition!!!’  

A fleet of Billingsgate fishwives sails across the English Channel to terrorise the French and shame the British Prime Minister Pitt for his inaction. Their vigorous and decisive manner was contrasted with that of politicians who were, by contrast, portrayed as vacillating and weak.

ORIGIN literally a woman who sells fish.  In this context, the word wife means woman rather than married woman. (Nowadays rarely used and usually in a pejorative sense).



  1. A girl or woman who engages in courtship without serious intentions.

  2. One who trifles or ‘toys with’ an object (or person’s affections)

  3. A coquette.


Floozy (Slang) (alt. floozie)

  1. A gaudily dressed, usually immoral or sexually promiscuous woman (now often used facetiously).

  2. A prostitute.

ORIGIN  First recorded in 1905–10. origin obscure.


Four by Four (Also, 4 x 4) (Slang) (Derogatory)

  1. A utility vehicle.

  2. A woman who has had four children by four different fathers.

ORIGIN 21st C. A play on words. (Derogatory pun).


Frump Noun.

  1. A person who is dowdy, drab, and unattractive.

  2. A dull, old-fashioned woman.



A fierce and violent person, esp. a woman.

ORIGIN (Classical Mythology)  Minor female divinities. The daughters of Gaia. Greek the Erinyes or Eumenides. Roman Furiae or Dirae.


Gamine (French)

  1. A neglected girl who is left to run about the streets.

  2. A diminutive or very slender girl, especially one who is pert, impudent, or playfully mischievous.

ORIGIN 1895–1900; (feminine of gamin)



  1. A female child, from birth to full growth.

  2. A young, immature woman, especially formerly, an unmarried one.

  3. daughter: ‘My wife and I have two girls.’

  4. A female servant, a maid.

Informal: Sometimes Offensive esp. when referring to a grown woman.


Gold digger Informal. 

A woman who associates with or marries a man chiefly for material gain.



  1. An ugly or repulsive woman.

  2. A woman whose appearance and behaviour causes fear.

ORIGIN: Classical Mythology.  Three female monsters, commonly represented as having snakes for hair, wings, brazen claws, and eyes that turned anyone looking into them to stone.



  1. An ugly old woman, especially a vicious or malicious one.

  2. A witch or sorceress.

ORIGIN  Middle English hagge; Old English *hægge. (witch). German Hexe (witch).


Harlot Noun (Archaic)

A prostitute or sexually promiscuous woman.

ORIGIN  First recorded in 1175–1225; Middle English: (‘young idler, rogue’), from Old French herlot (obscure origin).


Harpy Noun.

  1. A scolding, nagging, bad-tempered woman; shrew.

  2. A greedy, predatory person.

ORIGIN (Classical Mythology) A ravenous monster with a woman’s head and a bird’s body. Latin Harpȳia, Greek Hárpȳiai. Lliterally ‘ a snatcher’ or to ‘snatch away.’



  1. A scolding, vicious woman; hag; shrew.

  2. A large, gaunt woman

ORIGIN 16th C. Possibly from the French ‘haridelle’  (a thin, worn-out horse).


Hooker (Slang)


Horizontale (French) (archaicslang




Housfrau (German)

A married woman who manages her own household, especially as her principal occupation.

Sometimes said disparagingly, as in ‘she’s just a little housfrau.’ (‘Home-maker’, ‘home-maker-y’ ‘stay-at-home-mom’) are similarly ambiguous in this respect.


Housewife noun.

A married woman who manages her own household, especially as her principal occupation.

Most people, married or unmarried, find the term houswife perfectly acceptable. But it is sometimes perceived as disparaging, because it implies a lowly status (‘She’s just a housewife’). Or because it defines an occupation in terms of a woman's relation to a man. 



An artless, innocent, unworldly girl or young woman.

ORIGIN First recorded in 1840–50; from French, feminine of ingénu. Latin ingenuus ‘native, inborn’


Hoyden noun

A boisterous, bold, and carefree girl; a tomboy.

ORIGIN 1585–95; perhaps Middle Dutch heyden (boor, heathen).


Hussy noun

  1. A brazen or immoral woman.

2.A mischievous, impudent, or ill-behaved girl.

ORIGIN 1520–30. From ‘hussive’ (housewife)


Jade Noun.

  1. A worn-out, broken-down, worthless, or vicious horse.

  2. A disreputable or ill-tempered woman.

ORIGIN Middle English; of obscure origin. Shakespeare: ‘Go to, you jade.’


Jezebel Noun.

A wicked, shameless woman.

ORIGIN Biblical: Jez·a·bel. The wife of Ahab, King of Israel. (1 Kings 16:31).


Karen (21st century. Slang) pejorative.

An obnoxious, angry, entitled, and often racist middle-aged white woman who uses her privilege to get her way, or to police other people’s behaviour. A Karen is generally characterised as ‘an angry, middle-aged, suburban, white, divorced mother.’

ORIGIN Since 2020 ‘Karen’ has gained in usage as a term for white women exposed in viral videos engaging in what are widely seen as racist acts.

A Karen is generally stereotyped as a vociferous complainant with a ‘blonde bob haircut.’ Also characterised as ‘anti-vaxx’ , ‘Generation X’ and  a ‘soccer mom.’ Karen is an example of the use of a first name to disparage certain kinds of people. One suggestion is that the name comes from a 2005 novel by Dane Cook called The Friend Nobody Likes. (The friend was named Karen.)

An additional explanation is that it comes from the character Karen in the 2004 film Mean Girls.

During the coronavirus pandemic, the name ‘Karen’ was also used to characterise a vocal minority of middle-aged white women who were opposed to social distancing (either from ignorance or ruthless self-interest.)


Ladette Noun. Informal 

1.A young woman whose social behaviour is similar to that of male adolescents or young men.

  1. A young woman who behaves in a boisterously assertive or crude manner and engages in heavy drinking sessions.

ORIGIN: Late 20th.C. Originating in the UK popular press from the 1980s onwards. This is an interesting term because among many so-called ‘ladettes’ the name was seen to be self-affirming. They did not perceive that they ‘were [merely] trying to act like men’, but that they were taking advantage of the increased social freedoms available to women in recent decades.

‘Cops blame the surge in female brutality on the hard drinking ladette culture.’

The Sun (2010) ‘My drinking habits are definitely more ladette than lady.’ The Sun (2011) ‘It was all very ladette - work hard, play hard.’ Times, Sunday Times (2009)


Lady Noun.

  1. A woman who is refined, polite, and well-spoken.

  2. A woman of high social position or economic class.

When used as a modifier it may be viewed as an outdated gendered reference that is condescending (or even offensive) e.g. ‘A lady reporter’ ‘lady doctor’ ‘a lady vicar.’
This suggests that it is unusual to find a woman in the role specified.

ORIGIN  First recorded before 900; Middle English ladi(e), earlier lavedi, Old English hlǣfdīge, hlǣfdige, perhaps originally meaning ‘loaf-kneader.’

In the meanings ‘refined, polite woman’ and ‘woman of high social position’ lady is the equivalent of gentleman.  As a form of address ‘Lady’ is now usually perceived as rude or at least insensitive, e.g.  ‘Hey, lady!’ 

When circumstances make it relevant to specify sex, ‘woman’ is preferred to ‘lady.’ An approach that is increasingly followed is to avoid specifying the sex of the person referred to. Person or a sex-neutral term can be substituted for lady. (e.g. Chairperson (or Chair); ‘cleaner’ rather than ‘cleaning lady.’


Lady Muck noun. informal

1.An overly entitled, demanding woman.

2.A woman who ‘puts on airs.’ A snob.

3. An ordinary woman behaving or being treated as if she were aristocratic.  


Maid noun

  1. A girl or young unmarried woman (Archaic).

  2. A female virgin (Archaic).

  3. A female domestic employee (kitchen maid, a handmaid; a lady’s maid; a nursery maid)

ORIGIN First recorded in 1225–1275; Middle English maide, maid,  maiden


Man-eater (Slang)

  1. A carnivore that eats human flesh.

  2. A predatory woman

  3. Sexually demanding female

  4.  Femme fatale.


Minx Noun.

A pert, impudent, or flirtatious girl.

ORIGIN  1535–45. Possibly Low German (minsk ‘man’) German Mensch.)


Mistress Noun

  1. A woman who has power, authority, or ownership.

  2. The female head of a household ‘the mistress of the house.’

  3. A woman who employs or supervises servants.

  4. A woman who is in charge of a school or other establishment; e.g., headmistress, schoolmistress, postmistress.

  5. female teacher or tutor

  6. A woman who has achieved mastery in some field. She was ‘a mistress of music.’

  7.  A woman who has a sexual relationship with a man to whom she is not married.


Mother Noun.

  1.  A female parent. ‘She’s the mother of three small children.’

  2.  A woman in authority specifically: the superior of a religious community of women. (e.g. Mother Teresa)

  3.  An old or elderly woman (Mother Hubbard.)

  4. Something that is an ‘extreme exemplar’ of its kind; especially in terms of scale. (e.g., ‘the mother of all battles’ ‘the mother of all storms.’

Mother (transitive verb)

  1. To give birth to

  2. To give rise to

  3. To care for or protect like a mother (to ‘mother’, ‘mothering’)


Old maid Noun Disparaging and Offensive. 

  1. An elderly or confirmed spinster.

  2. A fussy, timid, prudish person.

The meaning is used with disparaging intent and perceived as insulting. It puts emphasis on an woman’s advanced age and an assumed inability to ever attract a husband. See also spinster.


Pavé thumper (Slang) (18th century, archaic)



Pram face (Slang)

A girl who is destined to become a young mother.

ORIGIN: 21st C.


Prima donna noun

  1. A first or principal female singer of an opera company.

  2. A temperamental person; a person who takes adulation and privileged treatment as a right and reacts with petulance to criticism or inconvenience.

ORIGIN:   Italian. A prima donna (first lady, leading lady, primary woman) A prima donna expects and demands high praise and special treatment. Though the literal sense of prima donna refers only to women, its figurative sense can be applied to anyone.


Pussy noun  (Slang) Vulgar. (Disparaging and Offensive)

  1. A woman, esp. one who is regarded as a sex object, or sexually available.

  2. Female genitalia.

ORIGIN: First recorded in 1690–1700. Perhaps from Dutch poesje, a diminutive of poes ‘cat’ also ‘vulva’. Possibly Low German pūse ‘vulva.’  Old English pusa ‘bag’; Perhaps directly related to  ‘purse.’


Quean noun (Archaic) 

  1. An overly forward, impudent woman; shrew; hussy.

  2. A prostitute.

  3. Adult female cat.

ORIGIN  Pre-1000; Middle English quene, Old English cwene (woman, queen). 

Dialect:  ‘Quine’ with the alternative meaning girl or young woman, especially a robust one.


Queen bee

  1. The only fertile female bee in a hive.

  2. A woman who is in a favoured or pre-eminent position.

ORIGIN  First recorded in 1600–10.

‘Queen bee’ can also be used pejoratively to describe. a woman who has an exaggerated sense of her own importance, bossy, overbearing, a prima donna. 


Scarlet woman

  1. A sexually promiscuous woman.

  2. A prostitute, or a woman who commits adultery.

  3. Derogatory, the church of Rome.

ORIGIN:  Biblical. Revelations (17:1-6).  In which the ‘whore of Babylon’ is described as clothed  ‘in scarlet and purple.’

Scrubber (Slang)

  1. A vulgar or slovenly woman.

  2. one who has many casual sexual relationships.

Shena (Archaic)



A woman of violent temper and speech; a termagant.

She-devil noun

A woman who resembles a devil, as in extreme wickedness, cruelty, or bad temper.


Sheila noun.  (Slang) Australian 

A girl or young woman.


Shickster (Archaic)




A seductively beautiful or charming woman, especially one who beguiles men

ORIGIN: Classical Mythology. A sea nymph, part woman and part bird, who lured mariners to destruction by their seductive singing. seductresstemptressvamp.


Skirt (Slang)

A woman or girl, esp. one who deemed to be sexually available (Disparaging)


Slag noun. (Slang)

  1. An abusive woman.

  2. Prostitute or promiscuous woman, equivalent to slut or whore.

ORIGIN First recorded in 1780–90. Originally an argot word for a ‘worthless person’ or ‘a thug.’ Slag in its original meaning refers to residue from the process of smelting, a method used to separate a metal from raw ore ‘useless detritus.’
As an abusive term for a woman this emerges by the mid-1900s, and is considered offensive and sexist.


Slattern noun

  1. A slovenly, untidy woman or girl.

2.A slut; harlot.

ORIGIN: First recorded in 1630–40. (Possibly from  slatter ‘to splash’, ‘spill’.)


Slut noun. Disparaging and Offensive. Archaic.

  1. A prostitute; harlot.

  2. An immoral or dissolute woman.

  3. A dirty, slovenly woman.

  4. A person (especially a woman) who is sexually promiscuous.

ORIGIN  First recorded in 1375–1425; late Middle English slutte;  ‘mud’.  

In the early 1400s, when slut first appeared in English, it was roughly equivalent to of slattern (a slovenly, untidy woman or girl.) It also meant ‘maid’ or ‘lowly’ servant. By the end of the 15th century, the sense of a woman ‘given to immoral or improper conduct’ had gained currency.  but this meaning is not current today. Interestingly, slattern also developed the meaning ‘prostitute’ or ‘harlot.’
In recent years some feminists have reclaimed the word slut to mean ‘a sexually liberated woman.’

Recent meaning (Informal) A person who indulges their passion/s ‘shoe-slut’ ; ‘book slut’,


Soubrette Noun.

  1. A maidservant or lady’s maid in a play, opera, or the like, especially one displaying coquetry, pertness, and a tendency to engage in intrigue.

  2. An actress playing such a role.

  3. Any lively or pert young woman.


1745–55. French: lady’s maid. Provençal soubreto (affected, superior).


Spinster Noun.

  1. A woman whose occupation is spinning.

  2. A woman still unmarried beyond the usual age of marrying.

  3. A woman who has never married.

ORIGIN 12th C.; Middle English spinnestere (a woman who spins)

Disparaging and Offensive. The meaning ‘a woman beyond the usual marriageable age’ is used with disparaging intent and perceived as insulting. It implies negative qualities such as being fussy or undesirable. (See also old maid).

Strumpet (Slang) (derogatory

  1. A prostitute or sexually promiscuous woman.

  2. woman who is very sexually active.

  3. A female adulterer.

  4. mistress.

  5. trollop; a whore

  6. A woman of a vulgar and discourteous disposition.

  7. whore

ORIGIN:  First recorded in 1300–50; Middle English; Obscure. Possibly

Middle Dutch strompen (‘to stalk’) or strompe (‘stocking’); Latin (stuprum ‘violation’ or stuprare, ‘to violate’).



A prostitute or sexually promiscuous woman.

ORIGIN: First recorded in 1915–20. 



A violent, turbulent, or brawling woman.

ORIGIN Termagant was a mythical deity popularly believed in the Middle Age. Introduced into ‘morality plays’ as a violent, overbearing personage in long robes.


Tiger mother

A strict mother (especially an East Asian) who demands academic excellence and obedience from her children.

ORIGIN The term was first popularised by Amy Chua in her book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother (2011).



An energetic, sometimes boisterous girl whose behaviour and pursuits are considered more typical of boys than of girls.

ORIGIN  First recorded in 1545–55 


Totty slang British informal.

1.Woman (usually young) considered as attractive, a sexual object (e.g., ‘hot totty’,
‘posh totty’)

ORIGIN 19th century. Diminutive of ‘tot.’ 


Trollop noun 

  1. An immoral or sexually promiscuous woman.

2.A prostitute.

ORIGIN: First recorded in 1605–15; perhaps akin to troll. (More often used facetiously these days).


Trophy wife noun.

The young, often second or third wife of a rich middle-aged man.

ORIGIN: An Americanism dating to 1985–90


Unfortunate Archaic


ORIGIN: 19th C. Euphemism. ‘I was obliged to gain my living as an ‘unfortunate.’


Vamp   Noun.

  1. A seductive woman who uses her sensuality to exploit men.

2.To use feminine charms upon; seduce.

ORIGIN: First recorded in 1905–10; contraction of  ‘Vampire



  1. A loud overbearing woman; a ‘shrew’.

  2. A woman of ‘great stature, strength, and courage’

  3. A woman who has a domineering, abrasive and spiteful manner.

  4. A woman who has risen above cultural and gender stereotypes to embody a virile heroism.

  5. A woman who demonstrates exemplary and heroic qualities.

ORIGIN: From the Latin vir meaning ‘man.’ (virile).
Virago is associated with women who are aggressive, or masculine in manner.

‘When she was brought before Adam, Virago was the name he gave to her;
Therefore she is called Virago, For she was made out of the man.’
(Middle English poem Cursor Mundi.)
NB: The British Royal Navy christened at least four warships Virago.


Vixen Noun.

  1. A female fox.

  2. An ill-tempered or quarrelsome woman.

  3. A woman considered to be sexually attractive.

ORIGIN: Old English fyxen (feminine of fox). 


Wench Noun.

  1. A country lass or working girl.

  2. A girl or young woman. (Usually Facetious) 

  3. A strumpet, whore.  Archaic. 

  4. Verb. To associate with promiscuous women.

ORIGIN 1250–1300; Middle English, from wenchel, Old English (wencel, child).  


Whore Noun.

  1. A person who engages in sex acts for money

  2.  Prostitute.

  3. A person who is sexually promiscuous.

Disparaging and Offensive. 

ORIGIN Middle English, via Old English hōre;  Old Norse (hora, harlot).  
First recorded pre-1100.


Woman Noun. 

An adult female person.

ORIGIN  First recorded before 900; Middle English womman, wimman, Old English wīfman(n), wīf ‘female, wife, woman’)  



1. An affectionate diminutive of ‘wife.’

2. A mistress; especially any one of a number of mistresses with whom a man has a long-lasting sexual relationship.

ORIGIN  Mid-19th century. Earliest, Putnam's Monthly Magazine.

Note: Lord Bath, 7th Marquess of Bath, owner of Longleat Safari Park in Wiltshire, died in 2020 aged 87. He had 74 girlfriends who he referred to as his ‘wifelets.’



Usually applied to feminist groups. Disparaging. 1970s.


Witch noun

  1. A person (especially a woman) who professes or is supposed to practice magic or sorcery.

  2. A sorceress.

  3. A woman who is supposed to have evil or wicked magical powers.

  4. An ugly or spiteful old woman; a hag.

ORIGIN  Pre-900; Middle English wicche, Old English wicce). ‘Wicked’ may be derived from  wicce.


Yummy mummy noun (Slang) 

An attractive woman who has had children.



It may come as little surprise to learn that the female activity that has given to the greatest number of terms, names, words and euphemisms is ….  prostitution. The word ‘prostitute’ was first recorded in 1530. Here’s a selection of some of them.



… Belle de Jour ... Belle de Nuit ...

… Blowen … Brass … Call-girl … Courtesan …

…  Drab … Escort … Harlot … Ho … Hooker …

…  Horizonale … Hustler … Jade … Lady of the Night …

… Moll… Mot …  Night-time Accountant …

… Pavement-princess … … Pavé-thumper … Prossie …  

… Prostie … Quean … Sex- worker … Shena …

… Shickster … Street-walker … Tom …

…  ‘Unfortunate’ …… Whore …

… Working-girl …



Bluestockings to Bimbos September 2022