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Mother Tongue

A Surprising History of Women’s Words

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With vim and verve, Mother Tongue: A Surprising History of Women’s Words discovers the first millennium of English words for women’s bodies and experiences.

Virago
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Author
Jenni Nuttall

Synopsis

When we look to the past, we often expect to be disappointed. In the history of language, we expect to find misogyny around each corner, a disdain for or absence of the voice of women. But the history of women’s words, as it turns out, is full of surprises.

From the monthly flux or flowers to the mægs that experience them, from the original helpmeet, Eve, to the viragos who fronted early feminism, it is undeniable that there was a wealth of riches for describing our experiences, our lives and our selves.In fact, as women have made slow progress towards equality, we’ve paradoxically lost some of the most expressive and eloquent bits of our vocabulary. Here, Jenni Nuttall shines a light on them, to dust them off and see if we’ve any use for them today.

Mother Tongue is a rich, provocative and entertaining history of women’s words – of the language we have, and haven’t, had to share our lives. Inspired by Jenni Nuttall’s deep knowledge of the English language as well as conversations with her teenage daughter, this is a book for anyone who loves language – and for feminists who want to look to the past in order to move forward.

With vim and verve, Mother Tongue: A Surprising History of Women’s Words discovers the first millennium of English words for women’s bodies and experiences.

Praise

‘From the womb-wicket to the child-mighty, and roaring maidens to cunning crones, MOTHERTONGUE encompasses a millennia of enthralling English parlance. Incisively scholarly, affectionately humorous (and sometimes quietly furious), Nuttall sifts the archives of centuries and listens to modern echoes, as lost voices emerge, showing how women have long spoken, and been spoken of. Vivid, philosophical, absorbing and urgent, this superb book teems with historical marvels and their 21st century resonances.’
Dr Rebecca Wragg Sykes, author of Kindred.

‘A revelatory delight. It is richly scholarly, wry and funny, healthily grounded in women’s bodily experiences. There is a nugget of joy and wisdom on every single page.’
Victoria Whitworth, author of Daughter of the Wolf

‘Fascinating, intriguing, witty, a gem of a book’
Kate Mosse

‘This is required reading for logophiles, feminists, and history buffs.’
Publishers Weekly

‘Nuttall, a scholar of Anglo-Saxon and medieval literature and the history of the English language, brings humor and a merry curiosity to her examination of the “livelu, unruly and often startlingly vivid” words used in reference to women and their bodies from Old English to the present…A fresh, informative perspective on women’s lives through the centuries.’
Kirkus

‘Jenni Nuttall has written a book full of interesting observations about semantic change and etymological development’
Philip Hensher, Spectator