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A stock picture, not necessarily a cicisbeo

Cicisbeo

CICISBEO (plural CICISBEI): “a married woman’s male companion or lover.” — Oxford English Dictionary

Apropos our last few articles, we discovered there is a word for “male mistress.” The word is cicisbeo, from the Italian. It doesn’t appear common in the Anglosphere, and even the multiple Italian language pages I found refer to cicisbei only in historical or artistic contexts (from what I could tell. Then again, my Italian comprehension is limited to tiramisu, pianoforte, and Lamborghini.)

According to the Wikipedia article, cicisbei abided by strict codes of social norms, right down to where they positioned themselves at events. The term seems to no longer be in common use, which may be due to reduced acceptance of adultery, the dissolution of the aristocracy, plain old sexism, or all of the above.

The one English language article I found referencing the cicisbeo concept had as its subject “walkers,” male escorts to society events. Since I’m not a regular at debuts and cotillions, I was only vaguely aware of the concept, but as every article I’ve read on the subject points out, women crave manners, neat appearance, and a listening ear. Husbands, fiancés, and boyfriends, take note.

Otto E. Mezzo

References:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cicisbeo

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/8111966/Every-woman-needs-a-man-or-two-to-make-her-feel-like-a-star.html

https://www.sfgate.com/style/article/I-was-a-walker-an-escort-to-society-women-5720198.php

Apropos Mistresses – Spinster, Bachelor, and other Asymmetries

Back in April, we asked if mistress is an offensive word. And if so, is it only because there’s no equally underhanded word for an adulterous man?

Anne, as usual, had a lot to say on the topic:

“Master,” as a noun, came about in the 12th century, according to Merriam-Webster.com, and “mistress” in the 14th. It took somebody a couple hundred years to figure out that sometimes women are in charge OR to decide that they wanted another word.

My take is that “mistress” was the female equivalent of “master” for a long time (mistress of the house, mistress of ceremonies) before the secondary meaning came along. Perhaps it was originally a euphemism. Perhaps there is no male equivalent (as the plus-one who was not invited by the other spouse) because women, married or single, are often not seen as being distracted by sexual urges.

There’s a lot packed in there, and Anne makes several astute observations. Do women take “boy toys” for diversion less frequently than men run to mistresses for succor? Perhaps, but that doesn’t explain why a male analog for mistress wouldn’t have emerged. We have words to describe much rarer things (like silience).

But enough anomia. On to this month’s topic.

The original Dictionary.com article bore the title Mistress” And Other Words That Have No Male Counterpart, which got me thinking on asymmetries – pairs of words that should convey equivalent meanings, but don’t. The article mentions bachelor/spinster. Another good example: governor/governess. Whereas mistress has described a woman in charge (and still does – headmistress, props mistress, &c.), I’m not sure governess has ever denoted a female head of state. Comment if I’m wrong.

The Dictionary.com article also mentioned bitch. I looked it up, and where a female dog is a bitch, a male dog is a… dog. At least that’s also a put-down, and one that’s mostly directed at men. Is there a generic English animal name derived from the female of the species? Yes: cow.*

Here’s another asymmetrical pair: courtier/courtesan. Both words originally described members of the royal court. But courtesan soon took on its primary meaning of a prostitute with an upscale clientele. Sometimes a courtesan wasn’t in general circulation – in those cases, she would be more like a mistress.

And that brings us full circle. To close out this article, I turn it back over to Anne:

[Mistress] has become pejorative. In related news, I think the word “master” has been touched more by its connection to the time of legal enslavement in this country than “mistress” has. Eventually, as is always true in language, we will devise new terms.

True dat.

– Otto E. Mezzo

*What do you call a female cat – the counterpart to a tom? Answer next month.

Post-industrial

POST-INDUSTRIAL: “Relating to or denoting an economy which no longer relies on heavy industry” – Oxford English Dictionary

What’s good for the environment is not necessarily good for language. Take post-industrial. What does it mean? If you ask marketing people, it refers to a class of recycled materials – namely plastics, paper, textiles, wood, or even metals trimmed off during the manufacturing process which are then recycled into post-industrial material.

The first time I saw that term, I did a double take. When see post-industrial I think of post-industrial economies or post-industrial societies. The word industrial has always carried an air of global abstraction (industrial strength, industrial nations) rather than referring to specific industry-related things. Because of that, I prefer post-manufacture when writing about cast-offs from the manufacturing process. Pre-consumer is also widely accepted.

Post-industrial waste is a generally accepted term, so I concede it’s a logical hop to post-industrial recycled material. But no standard dictionary I consulted has an entry for it – yet.

 – Otto E. Mezzo

References: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Post-industrial_economy

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Post-industrial_society

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/post-consumer-pre-consumer-post-industrial-waste-marcel-van-enckevort/

https://www.buildinggreen.com/primer/defining-recycled-content

You Must Pay the Rent! Churls, Boors, Villains, and other malfeasants

Country folk get a bad rap in the English language (indeed, in most languages). Five months ago, we glanced at the word villain. The word once denoted a farmhand, but now universally refers to the antagonist of a story or a situation. Back in October, I puzzled about why we should equate productive men of the soil with calumny and scheming. After all, none of the great villains of Shakespeare or Virgil are peasants.

As it turns out, we can chalk up the journey from rural hired hand to malefactor to garden-variety classism. Workers bound to a villa (plantation) were considered rough and unmannered, especially compared with knights and squires. Indeed, villeins formed an official social class in feudal Europe, much as peóns did in colonial Latin America. Since hayseeds couldn’t tell a dinner fork from an oyster fork, and also since they knew nothing of courtly manners, they must be to blame for crimes most foul, at least in the minds of the nobility. Hence, villain, the bad guy/gal.

Two other English words also make the leap from “country rube” to “disagreeable person,” meaning-wise. Boor means “farmer,” and comes from the same Germanic root that gave us the Dutch boer. And like villain, the word assumes a certain lack of refinement — in fact, that is the very definition of boor in modern English. Churls were one rung above the villeins, being free farmers rather than serfs, but all that means is they got off the hook for murder, theft, and world domination. Instead, their coarse ways gave us the adjective churlish and the noun churl, an ill-tempered, rude person. I’d rather have world domination.

Lest we let the upper classes off the hook too easily, the words bourgeois and bourgeoisie came to describe the middle and upper-middle classes. It acquired its perjorative connotation of vain materialism during the French revolution, when it was well-earned. Karl Marx hammered the final nails in the coffin of bourgeois respectability, at least in common-use English.

Interestingly, both bourgeois (think burgher) and villain are words which etymologically suggest “city dweller.” So I guess the agrarians get their linguistic revenge in the end, proving that an Arkansas toothpick beats an oyster fork any day.

 – Otto E. Mezzo

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— Lex and Otto