In a word: bluestocking

April 01, 2013|By John E. McIntyre | The Baltimore Sun

Each week The Sun's John McIntyre presents a relatively obscure but evocative word with which you may not be familiar, another brick to add to the wall of your working vocabulary. This week's word:


In the middle of the eighteenth century, a group of women that included Elizabeth Vesey, Hannah More, Elizabeth Montagu, and Elizabeth Carter conducted evening parties at which literary subjects were discussed. Gentlemen also attended, and one regular, the botanist Benjamin Stillingfleet, habitually wore blue worsted stockings instead of the black silk customary in formal wear. The term bluestocking came to be identified with those gatherings and eventually with the women themselves and their literary aspirations and activities.

Thus we now have bluestocking for a "bookish woman" or for a woman with pretentious or pedantic literary tastes. It has a pejorative cast because, you know, women are not traditionally expected to be smart or genuinely accomplished. And besides, any woman with intellectual pretensions must also be assumed to be homely.

Thus bluestocking is a word to add to your working vocabulary so that you can be suspicious when you encounter it, while avoiding using it yourself.

Example: From Gwenn Wright's The BlueStocking Girl: "She says it is a school for bluestockings, which, according to her, is really only a fashionable way of saying it is a school for ugly girls who cannot find a suitable husband."

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