Let’s forget about the formal applications of English for one day and take a walk on the wild side and talk about bad words.
Today we’re going to explore the word BITCH, which, without a doubt, is all over the place in the English language in all its elaborate uses. However, it’s not as simple as you might think.
*See the Real Life statement on Responsible Swearing at the bottom. Read How to Swear in English.
BITCH. It’s a powerful word, it can be used as a noun, verb or adjective, and it’s almost universally misunderstood by non-native English speakers. It can be playful, sexual or violent. It can be offensive, neutral, and even used to empower woman. But in 95% of the cases, “Bitch” does not translate to “Prostitute.” Wikipedia says:
The word “bitch“, literally meaning a female dog, is a common slang term in the English language, especially used as a denigrating term applied to a person, commonly a woman. It often refers to someone who is belligerent, unreasonable, rudely intrusive or aggressive. (see continuation of this on “History of Bitch” below)
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Let’s dive in. Here is how BITCH is used:
Bitch Almost Never Means “Prostitute”:
- Contrary to what most people believe, the translation of “son of a bitch” does not represent how native speakers use the word bitch in other situations. Even in “son of a bitch,” the expression doesn’t make one think of mother or woman in the same way that it’s translated in Spanish and Portuguese (“hijo de puta/ filho de puta”).
- The only exception to this is in American ganster rap music, which uses the word “bitch” in a much more derogative way (prostitute), often referring to women as “bitches and hoes” (hoe means prostitute). More on this below
Bitch Literally Means Female Dog. There’s nothing really to explain here. It’s quite literal and this is probably the only non-colloquial use of the word.
Calling a Woman a Bitch (3 different meanings):
- An annoying/ unpleasant woman: It’s definitely not polite to call a woman a bitch, but in most cases, it’s not as bad as “whore.” For example: (a) He didn’t leave a tip at the restaurant because he said that his waitress WAS A BITCH. (b) I don’t know what’s wrong with her. She’s BEING A BITCH.
Note: “She is a bitch” (permanent) is much more offensive than saying “she is being a bitch” (temporary state). All the same, to call a woman a bitch is never nice, so watch your mouth.
- A Prostitute: Rap music seems to be the only context where “bitch” means “prostitute.” Rap music’s use of “bitch” is a controversial, complicated issue which I’m not going to even try to explore right now.
In my opinion, rap music, in general, demonstrates totally inappropriate treatment of women that nobody should imitate. At any rate, have a look at the “unified bitch theory “ mind map by famous rappers, Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg.
- An Empowered Woman: An emerging feminist definition that is becoming more common these days: “In a feminist context, it can indicate a strong or assertive woman, one who might make men feel threatened.” Check out this popular Meredith Brooks Song, “bitch” which demonstrates exactly this.
Calling a Man a Bitch
This is often playful, but can be mildly offensive. It means that the man is subservient, that he does everything for another person, and has compromised his dignity. You often use the possessive adjective. For example: I do everything for my boss. My friends at work tell me that I’M HIS BITCH. Sometimes people say “he’s being a little bitch” to communicate that he’s extremely unpleasant, not easy to deal with.
As an Adjective: Bitchy
You can call a man or a woman a bitch (with different meanings, as described in 3 and 4), but the word bitchy (applied to both men and women) has the sense of “annoying” or “unpleasant.” For example: You’re being really bitchy today. Why can’t you be nicer to me? This is still not very polite language and would probably be offensive.
Bitch as a Verb (Complain)
In this colloquial use of the word, “bitch” means “complain.” It is often used together with “moan” (cry in a very lamenting way) to negatively portray someone (or yourself) who is complaining too much. This use is not really offensive (depending on the tone) and can be used informal situations. For example: I wish people would just stop BITCHING AND MOANING about corruption in politics and do something about it.
Bitch Someone Out
means to yell at someone in a really negative way for something they did. For example: My boss BITCHED ME OUT for being 10 minutes late. To use this expression is not offensive, but language is very colloquial.
Bitchin’ as an Adjective
This means that something is good, awesome, cool, etc. Don’t confuse this with bitchy (explained above).
For example: The Real Life English party was BITCHIN’! Following the rules of grammar would make this “bitching ” but we say “bitchin.” This is another colloquial expression that isn’t negative.
Life’s a Bitch
A common way to communicate that life is complicated, not easy, etc. The expression has this sense of confronting the difficulties, but also recognizing the unpleasant nature. Other examples of this use are: Calculus is a BITCH. Monday morning is a BITCH.
This expression (see picture below) communicates that you don’t believe what the person says. Urban Dictionary defines it as follows: Used when someone/tool makes a stupid comment, or just as a fun way of saying no. This is a common colloquial expression which originated in the ghettos and has reached mainstream middle class American society. People often use this colloquially in a playful way (the title of this article), but as Urban Dictionary points out because of the origin of “bitch please” amongst inner-city prostitution rings, it always carries a connotation of violence.
This is to “slap” somebody with the back of your hand in order to calm the person down and make them see things straight. This is another use of “bitch” that originated in the ghettos and was popularized by rap music and black culture. People often use this term in a playful way.
To Ride Bitch in the Car
To ride in the middle of the back seat of the car.
Did Shakespeare Invent the Word BITCH?
A Brief History of the Word Bitch (from wikipedia)
- Son of a bitch was first recorded in England in 1712, ‘bitch’ (Old English ‘bicce’) having meant female dog since before the 10th century, and an immoral woman since the 15th.
- By the 1780s ‘son of a bitch’ was one of the most offensive and common American insults.
- It’s been a “general term of abuse, dating from at least the time of Shakespeare. ‘son and heir of a mongrel bitch.’ King Lear, II, ii.
- Its original use as a vulgarism, documented to the fourteenth century, suggested high sexual desire in a woman, comparable to a dog in heat.
FREE E-book: 101 Words You’ll Never Learn in School
This is the first post in the The Art of Swearing in English series. It’s a delicate topic, but it needs to be addressed, and learners of English should be educated as to the proper use of these words (and the cultural context).
Just to be clear, we’re not promoting the irresponsible use of swear words. Much to the contrary, we think that if you are going to swear, you should have a high degree of awareness as to what you are communicating and the effect it has on people around you. Even if you have an intellectual understanding of how to swear, it doesn’t give you the deeply culturally conditioned reaction that natives have. They grew up in their families learning what was appropriate or not.
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Read More Swear Word Articles
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- Learn English Swears with Natalie Portman by Ethan
- 34 Ways to Use The Word ASS: Idioms, Slang, and Collocations by Justin
- Not So Offensive Alternatives to Bad Words in English (Video) by Justin
- How to Really Use the Word Shit: What Learners Don’t Know by Chad
- How to Sound Cooler When Speaking English by Chad