Those Darling Bluestockings Sure Had Moxie

Just like fashion, words change.  When I was growing up in the nineties, it was all about the bling, people needed to take a chill pill, and talk to the hand.  Let me tell you, we were cool.  Psych!

Today everyone is extra, people are coming for you on social media, and spilling the tea.  And don’t forget—you got this.

I’m not advocating bringing back 90’s slang…as if!  But there are some great words that have never been widely used during my nearly forty years on this earth, and I really think we need to bring them back into circulation. 

Let me give you three examples:

Darling

If you spend your time watching old movies as I do, you come to love the world darling.  Today it’s the stuff of melodramatic movies and novels.  You have a single darling, your one and only love.

But in the 1930s and 40s, the word indicated non-exclusive affection.  Women tossed it out constantly.  They called their fathers darling, their mothers, their close friends.

“Hello darling,” they’d say, as they breezed into the room. 

I honestly can’t think of anything more glamorous. 

In 1961, Audrey Hepburn dropped the word dozens of times in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

If it’s good enough for Audrey Hepburn, it’s good enough for me. 

So the next time I see you, if I call you darling, you’ll know why.

Bluestocking

I first came across this word in Virginia Woolf’s seminal essay on writing, A Room of One’s Own.  I’d never heard it before and had to look it up.  The Merriam-Webster website defines it blandly as a woman having intellectual or literary interests.

I thought nothing of it at the time, but then I came across the word again in Olive Higgins Prouty’s Pencil Shavings, a memoir of her writing life.  Prouty gained literary success with her 1923 novel Stella Dallas and eventually became a mentor to Sylvia Plath.  Prouty was an excellent writer but tortured by the idea that she was neglecting her duties as a wife and mother when she worked on her novels.

About her desire to go to college in 1900, she writes:

Both my parents, like many others, were skeptical about a college education for their daughter.  College was apt to make a girl opinionated, undomestic, unmanageable and also unmarriagable in the opinion of many a young man who wanted no “blue stocking” for a wife.

I realized then that bluestocking—a woman having intellectual interests—was an insult.  After a little more research, I found that the term originated from a group of British women in the mid-eighteenth century who were bored to death playing cards and pianofortes and decided to form a society to discuss their literary interests.  They invited men as well, and the story goes that one man declined to attend the meeting because he did not have the formal dress required for such an evening.  One of the women told him to come in his “blue stockings,” a term for the worsted wool stockings worn informally.  He did come, and critics who wrote the women off as pretentious dilettantes termed them bluestockings.

But I think the bluestockings were pretty bad ass—grandmothers to the suffragettes, great-grandmothers to the feminists of the 1960s, and great-great grandmothers to today’s women.

The bluestockings were rebels in their own way, readers and writers in a time when such activities would garner patronizing pats on the head at best and expulsion from the marriage market at worst.

So let’s bring back the word, but make it our own.  Say it with me, literary ladies—I’m a bluestocking and proud of it!

Moxie

And finally, moxie

The term comes from a soft drink of the same name that originated in 1876 and is still sold today.  The Moxie Man has appeared in the advertising throughout much of its history, pointing confidently forward and inspiring the expression, “the kid’s got moxie.”

Men—and women—with moxie won’t let anything stop them from getting what they want.

Neil Armstrong had moxie.  So did Ruther Bader Ginsberg and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

So for that matter does Tom Brady.

You don’t make it to the moon, the supreme court, or destroy a hellmouth without moxie.

You don’t win six Super Bowls without it either.

To have moxie is to have guts.

You know, like those darling bluestockings.

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