I wouldn't say this was a guest request, more a guest prompt. I notice over on Kathleen Kirk's blog that she has just awarded me a Versatile Slattern award along with a lot of other probably more versatile and probably a lot less slatternly bloggers. You're supposed to post seven facts about yourself and pass the award on to a bunch of other bloggers, but I'm a bit tired of the current facts about myself and I don't have a huge list of bloggers who appreciate the chain letter effect, so I think the way I'm going to approach this is to highlight some blog I frequent with each of these entries for awhile. Check in at the end for a sample.
First things first, though. Before I (provisionally, and without attending to all the rules) accept this award, I think I'd better figure out what a slattern is. Basically, I think of it as a slovenly person, and okay, pretty much always a woman. Slattern, slut, slovenly, sloppy--they all seem to go together in one package in my mind. At one end, unkempt and disorderly, at the other, well, at best a bit of a tramp and at worst... no, I'm not going there. I mean, maybe a slattern will turn out to be some kind of a queen!
Yeah, yeah--the Urban Dictionary has all of that worse end of the spectrum and then some. Tart, floozy, trollop, strumpet--these are just a few of the more polite words that are interchangeable with slattern. Also included are Britney Spears, Ann Coulter and Paris Hilton. Also apparently interchangeable is 'woman'.
And then, yes, on the other end, a 'deliberately offensive term meant to insult a woman's hygiene and grooming.'
The untidy meaning apparently came first. It is at least related to the word 'slatter'--to spill or splash awkwardly, to waste.
Of course, I had to see what Anatoly Liberman had to say about the whole thing. As usual, this is where we get into the larger and to me more interesting 'slant'. For 'slattern' turns up in his book Word Origins: and how we know them in his chapter on sound symbolism as he describes the group of words that resonate with each other simply because they start with that 'sl-' sound. As he has it, 'glide' and 'slide' are related words, but in the last, the idea of smoothness gives way to the idea of slipperiness. Sleek and slick, sled, slither, slobber--the list goes on and on. He talks a bit about the word 'sleazy'--apparently it did not come to mean sordid until around 1941. Liberman goes on,
"The adjective sleazy must have acquired its present-day meaning to conform to its sound shape. A word cannot exist in slums, surrounded by slatterns and sluts, and preserve its' purity amidst all this slime."
All right. But this still leaves the question of why I thought a Versatile Slattern Award sounded like a compliment and not an insult. Well, it's all about linguistic reclamation, folks. You can read about taking back the pejorative on Hoydens About Town. It's a bit more rhetoric than even I want to wade deeply into, but to justify it a bit, let's end this portion of the show with one more thought from Mr. Liberman, this time in his article for OUP, A Flourish of Strumpets:
The author of an old dissertation (a Swiss researcher named Margrit Keller) examined British dialectal dictionaries and found about 600 words and phrases meaning “girl” and “woman.” Most of them are derogatory and harp on a few familiar notes: slovenly, lazy, garrulous, flighty, ugly, and too accessible for men’s pleasures. One or two are interesting to a linguist.
Today's blog mention must of course go to Kathleen Kirk of Wait! I have a blog?! .After a year of daily writing on what other people were reading, she has loosened up her criteria but not her posting. Pretty much every day, Kathleen is on to something new. She's a poet, an actress, and I am getting the impression that she is currently doing something with musicals. Possibly involving the Civil War. And definitely involving the word 'skedaddle'.