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Wimmin, Wimps & Wallflowers: An Encyclopaedic Dictionary of Gender and Sexual Orientation Bias in the United States

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ISBN-13: 978-1877864803
ISBN-10: 1877864803
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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

In the same vein as his previous work, The Color of Words (LJ 5/1/97), Herbst has compiled an extensive dictionary of almost 1100 words used to disparage people with regard to their gender or sexual orientation. Herbst includes the slurs one would expect, such as "faggot" and "slut," but he also examines words like "girl" and "honey," which in certain contexts are considered condescending or disparaging. Entries are generally longer than the definitions available in other dictionaries of slang, ranging from one sentence to two pages. The definitions include examples of usage, some etymologies, and extensive cross references. Herbst is especially concerned with the context and history of the terms. A lengthy bibliography is included. Most readers will find that browsing through this well-researched and carefully considered work raises their sensitivity to their use of language, and librarians will find it useful for reference. Recommended for all libraries. Debra Moore, Loyola Marymount Univ., Los Angeles
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Herbst's first book, the acclaimed The Color of Words (Intercultural, 1997), identified and explored racial and ethnic slurs. In Wimmin, Wimps & Wallflowers, Herbst applies the same thorough and fascinating analysis to more than 1,000 terms currently used or recognized in the U.S. pertaining to gender and sexual orientation. Alphabetically arranged entries survey the words' etymology, provide insightful commentary on their current and historical usage, including examples from literature and popular culture, and discuss their frequently complex and conflicting meanings. Some terms require only brief explanations (billy goat, damaged goods), but Herbst devotes entries longer than a page to terms that merit them, such as babe/baby, dog, queen, and transsexual. Terms range from the familiar to the obscure and from the blatantly sexist to those many of us use without a second thought as to their meaning (honey, nag, old hat, shrinking violet). Herbst also includes controversial neologisms, such as womyn and herstory, that have "provoked a questioning of our gender standards and relations."

Not every term included is necessarily always off-limits. In some cases, only certain contexts or usages are unacceptable. Herbst addresses the complexity of the usage of some terms, such as those that are acceptable when used by "insider" groups but not by others (e.g., dame, queer), and examines terms, such as crone, from positive as well as negative points of view. A few terms are missed, probably because our culture invents them faster than they can be published in books. Among those not included are arm candy, babelicious, mommy track, soccer mom, and the use of twinkie as a condescending term for female journalists. See references and cross-references are plentiful, though there are so many variations for terms that Herbst does not include see references for all possibilities.

A similar title is The Dictionary of Bias-Free Usage: A Guide to Nondiscriminatory Language, by Rosalie Maggio (Oryx, 1991), which Herbst acknowledges as a source for his own book. Although there is some overlap between the two books, Herbst includes many terms not listed in Maggio (e.g., goldbrick, ho, lavender menace). Maggio, on the other hand, more consistently offers usage guidelines and suggests alternatives.

Wimmin, Wimps, & Wallflowers is a fascinating compendium that is unique in its coverage and its detailed treatment of the terms included. It should find a home in all academic and larger public libraries. RBB
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved


Product Details

  • Hardcover: 330 pages
  • Publisher: Nicholas Brealey Publishing (March 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1877864803
  • ISBN-13: 978-1877864803
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,688,156 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By George F. Simons on May 25, 2014
Format: Hardcover
My grandma told me to be careful about what I wished for, as it might come true. In a July 1998 review of Philip Herbst's first diversity lexicon, The Color of Words (Managing Diversity Newsletter, September 1998), I complained, "one might wish that terms about age, gender and sexual orientation were included." In this case, I am not at all sorry that the wish came true. Wimmin, Wimps, & Wallflowers targets the language around these topics with depth and accuracy. Herbst, not yet in the autumn of his years, has also rightly noted that the terms for aging and aged people generally have strong gender dimensions and therefore should be and are treated in this context.

Word origins are fascinating, and it is almost riveting to see how some words begin in innocence and take on more damaging meanings, while others lose their viciousness and bite over time and through overuse. It is also interesting to see the attempts and occasional successes in which pejorative words have been embraced and transformed by their intended targets, as in the feminist rehabilitation of crone.

This is a lexicon of popular culture and its speech. The author is at home citing Bobby Dylan, Doris Lessing, James Baldwin and contemporary films to illustrate both meanings and nuances in the use of the more than 1100 entries in the volume. Much of the language discussed is ancient, much of it new, much of it twisting and turning through time. Many of the entries are not for the faint-hearted.

Good scholarship need not be dispassionate, as long as the author is up front about what he is doing. Herbst has made it clear that he has undertaken this work as an interested party.
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