Watch Nicolas Cage Flip Out Over the Word ‘Bitch’
In this exclusive clip from Netflix’s new series “History of Swear Words,” host Nicolas Cage explains why we should all be outraged about the word “bitch.”
When Netflix first announced that one of its first new shows of 2021 would be a six-part docuseries about the etymology of profanity hosted by Oscar-winning actor Nicolas Cage, it almost made too much sense.
Each episode of History of Swear Words, which premieres on January 5th, focuses on a different expletive and in the exclusive clip from episode three below, Cage sounds off on the word “bitch.”
“Bitch: a female dog,” Cage reads from the dictionary. Shaking his head, he adds, “No mention of how 99.99 percent of the people use the word. I mean, what year is this from, 1885?! No! It’s from 2015. That’s right! The Merriam-Webster dictionary didn’t label the word ‘bitch’ offensive until the same year it added the word ‘twerk!’”
From there, he hands things over to Kory Stamper, the show’s resident lexicographer and author of Word By Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries, who was responsible for getting that specific entry updated. Now, in addition to that first definition is a two-parter that reads, “informal + often offensive: a malicious, spiteful, or overbearing woman” and “informal + offensive — used as a generalized term of abuse and disparagement for a woman.”
“I was pretty outraged to discover ‘bitch’ had no warning or usage labels on it!” Stamper tells The Daily Beast when we reached out to her about the “surreal” experience of co-starring with Cage in the new series. “It’s important to label offensive or disparaging words as ‘offensive’ or ‘disparaging’ because that's part of telling the truth about how the word is used.”
As she explains it, “Lexicographers don’t just decide on a whim that a word is offensive or disparaging—they analyze thousands of instances of that word in actual use to determine whether or not a word is used to offend or disparage a person or group of people.”
In the clip, Stamper says that she “went down the rabbit hole” of the word “bitch,” which led her to discover it was actually used as a disparaging word against men since at least the 1400s. It was first labeled as “vulgar” as early as the 1930s and shortly after that a woman revised the entry to make it clear that it was primarily used against women.
“But another editor—a man—edited down her revision so much that the entry ended up with no warning labels or usage notes,” Stamper says. “I don’t think he did so maliciously. I just think that he didn’t have the same real-world experience with the word ‘bitch’ that the woman editor did, and he was pressed for time. And that’s how ‘bitch’ stayed for the rest of the 20th century.”
Stamper can’t quite believe that History of Swear Words, which also features commentary from comedians like Sarah Silverman, Nikki Glaser, Baron Vaughn and others, got made in the first place, let alone that she plays such a large role in it.
“For a bookish nerd like me, the fact that this show exists at all is pretty surreal,” she says. “I’m usually that bore at parties who launches into long tangents about word histories and usage controversies while everyone else patiently waits for me to get it out of my system so they can go on with having a good time. So to have someone say, ‘No, please, talk at length about the etymology of fuck!’ was the weirdest and best moment of 2020.”
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