Words That Women Have Coined

Between the writers who create worlds we love to visit and the activists who coin the words we use to tell our stories, women are the driving force behind a lot of our speech. Except many of us don't even realize it.  

This is why events like Women’s History Month (which begins March 1) and International Women’s Day (which is celebrated on March 8) have become such important times to reflect on women and their contributions to society, the economy, and yes, even to the words we use. 

Read through this list of words that women have coined over the years, and learn what they meant back then and how they are still used today. Make sure to check back each day (culminating on International Women's Day on March 8) as we'll be adding new words to the list daily to celebrate all week.

Yup, this slideshow is a week long ... that's how much we love—and love to learn from—women.

Intersectionality

Intersectionality was coined by legal scholar, civil rights advocate, and lawyer Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989.

It is a noun that describes the theory of overlap within various social identities—such as race, gender, sexuality, and class—which can contribute to the systemic oppression and discrimination an individual experiences. For example, a queer woman discussing the discrimination she has faced due to both her sexual orientation and gender could talk about the intersectionality of those biases.

Intersectionality is also used when discussing the oppression and discrimination that results from the overlap of a person’s social identities. Women of color, for example, experience an intersectionality of oppression as it relates to both their gender and their race. 

When Crenshaw coined the term, she did so to discuss the nuances in discrimination that Black women face. She believed that one could not understand the discrimination as two separate things (being Black and being a woman), but instead needed to consider the effects the two identities had on each other: the discrimination facing Black women. 

Today, Twitter threads discussing feminism are full of variations of Crenshaw's theory. Many women, especially women of color, use intersectionality as a way to recenter feminism so that it does not focus on the plight of white women but instead opens the door to discussing the advancement and struggles of all women, especially those with multiple social identities who are faced with additional hurdles when seeking equality.   

WATCH: Do You Know If Intersectionality Affects You?

Locavore

Locavore was coined by Jessica Prentice in 2007.

It is a noun used to describe a person who strives to eat food that is locally grown, raised, and produced. Typically, it refers to food that is grown or raised within a radius of 100 miles of where a person lives. For example, someone who only buys food from their local farmer’s market could consider themselves a locavore, as long as that food does not travel more than an hour or two to get there.

Prentice came up with the word as a result of the “giddy” feeling she got from buying produce that had been harvested just that very morning from fields near her home. She liked the idea of putting money directly into the hands of local farmers, whom she could see working in the fields while she drove around town. 

These days locavore is practically synonymous with farm-to-table, a term restaurants use to indicate their menus are made up of locally produced ingredients. Local food is becoming increasingly popular as the impacts of global agriculture (and their effects on climate change) are understood. 

Imposter Syndrome

Imposter syndrome was coined by psychologists Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes in 1978.

It is a noun that describes the anxiety or self-doubt that arises from undervaluing one’s abilities, competence, or role in achieving success. It often results in attributing success to luck or other external forces. For example, if you have ever gotten a promotion at work and immediately assumed it was an accident, instead of the result of your hard work, you're probably suffering from imposter syndrome.  

The phrase originally appeared in a joint paper between Clance and Imes titled, "The Imposter Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention." The paper described how many women attribute successes to external forces that have nothing to do with their skill, intelligence, or achievements. 

Today we use the phrase to describe anyone who feels like they are only where they are due to “dumb luck,” or who believes that their success is the result of other people overestimating their abilities. It is very common among writers … a-hem … and something that many of us—I mean them!—suffer from when they finally manage to land a coveted byline and suddenly lose all faith in their ability to write.

White Fragility

Academic and author Robin DiAngelo coined white fragility in 2011.

It is a noun used to describe the tendency of white people, who are considered the dominant culture, to react defensively, angrily, or dismissively when presented with evidence of racism. For example, white fragility can surface online when a person of color is talking about their experience of discrimination, and a white person immediately responds defensively to say, “not all white people act that way.” 

DiAngelo first used the term in her 2011 article of the same name, to describe the “insulated environment of racial protection” that white people expect to wield when faced with racism. She explained how the perceived removal of that protection often leads white people to react in anger at the idea that they themselves do not experience racism, or that they have an inherent racial bias.  

Today, you can see this play out online in almost any comment section where discrimination or race is discussed. It can be paired with hashtags such as the facetious "#notallwhitepeople" (which goes back to the knee-jerk reaction white people have when discussing racism) and "#whitetears" (a byproduct of white fragility).

Spoon Theory

Spoon Theory was coined by blogger and author Christine Miserandino in 2003.

It is a noun used as a metaphor to explain how people with disabilities or chronic diseases manage their daily expenditure of energy, calculate the effort various tasks will take, and/or determine how they will conserve their resources to accomplish basic tasks.

Miserandino famously used the Spoon Theory to answer her friend’s question about what it feels like to have lupus. To illustrate, Miserandino gave her friend a collection of spoons and then asked her to describe a typical day. For every activity her friend mentioned, Miserandino took away a spoon, which represented the energy required to complete each task her friend mentioned. When her friend was done, Miserandino explained that because lupus left her with limited “spoons,” she needed to ration them to avoid running out of energy before the day was done, or from borrowing too much energy from the following day.

Today, the Spoon Theory has inspired many terms and phrases, which can include saying you are low on spoons (indicating you are low on energy), calling yourself a spoonie (someone who needs to ration energy for daily tasks), and describing yourself as “not having enough spoons to do [insert thing here]” (meaning that you have either exceeded your energy for the day, or will exceed your energy for the day, by attempting the task).

The term lent visibility to people who suffer from invisible illnesses, such as lupus, which is an autoimmune disease.

Mondegreen

Writer Sylvia Wright coined mondegreen in 1954. 

It is a noun used to describe the result of mishearing a word for another word or phrase, especially when it comes to ones that are spoken aloud (like songs and poems). “Woah, we’re halfway there. Woah, lemon on a pear” is a common mondegreen for the lyrics to the Bon Jovi song "Livin’ on a Prayer."

Wright came up with the term to describe the commonly misheard line, “Lady Mondegreen.'' The correct phrase—from a Scottish ballad—is actually, “laid him on the green.” (You can see why people might get confused.) 

Other common mondegreens today include “rock the cat box” (from the chorus of "Rock the Casbah" by The Clash) and “kicking your cat all over the place” (from "We Will Rock You" by Queen). The correct words are “kicking your can all over the place.”

Apparently, there is a lot of confusion about cats when it comes to their role in music.

#MeToo

#MeToo was coined by civil rights activist Tarana Burke in 2006.

It is a hashtag and a social movement originating among women, advocating for survivors of sexual harassment or violence to speak out about their experiences in order to expose and combat various forms of sexual misconduct.

It is popular across all social media platforms. An example of #MeToo being used in this way was a 2017 tweet from actress Alyssa Milano, in which she told her followers to tweet “me too” if they had ever experienced sexual harassment or assault. 

Burke came up with the phrase as a way to raise awareness of the multitude of instances of sexual abuse and assault against women. Her desire to educate others on the pervasiveness of these types of attacks stemmed from her own assaults. 

The hashtag began its viral moment in 2017, when it was used in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal. Since then it has become a popular way to start conversations and share stories. 

Although Burke originated the phrase and the movement, her name was largely missing from the conversation in the early days of its use. Today she is recognized as a member of the group of activists known as “the silence breakers,” who were collectively named as Time Magazine's 2017 Person of the Year.

Misogynoir

Misogynoir was coined by queer feminist scholar Moya Bailey in 2008.

It is a noun used to describe the specific hatred, dislike, distrust, and prejudice that is often directed toward Black women. It is a combination of the words misogyny and noir (the French word for "black"). For example, a Black woman who faces misogyny both because she is a woman and because she is Black, is experiencing misogynoir

Bailey originally used the term in 2010 to discuss the misogyny she saw directed toward Black women in hip-hop music. 

The word is still very commonly used today. It has been used to explain and dismantle many harmful stereotypes that Black women face, such as that of the “strong Black woman” and the “ride or die” concept, both of which are said to ignore or perpetuate the idea that Black women can handle anything, and therefore are not as vulnerable to physical and mental trauma.

Glass Cliff

British psychologists Michelle K. Ryan and S. Alexander Haslan coined Glass cliff in 2006

The term is a noun used to describe what happens when a woman or minority is advanced professionally during a time when circumstances or crises make it more likely for that person to fail. For example, if a struggling company opts to hire a female CEO to “right the ship” (and replace a white male CEO), that woman would be said to be facing a glass cliff

Ryan and Haslan coined the term in response to a statement made in a newspaper printed in the United Kingdom that said women in leadership positions have a negative impact on a company’s performance. To see if there was any merit to the statement, Ryan and Haslan checked the top 100 companies listed on the London Stock Exchange and found that women were more likely to be brought in during an existing period of decline. That essentially meant that companies experiencing a downturn were more likely to bring a woman in during times of turmoil, not that women were the cause of the initial issues. 

After expanding their research, the two found that this was a common process across the board. They theorized that qualified white male candidates looked at underperforming or failing businesses as a risk, and decided that they did not want to be part of the failure. Women and minorities were more likely to view this as their only shot at a major leadership role. 

Today, struggling companies (like J.C. Penney) are still pushing women toward the glass cliff during periods of decline. Whether it is a conscious decision because there is no one else willing to take the job, or a woman really is the most qualified candidate for the position, is hard to say. But women and minorities are still commonly thrust up against the glass cliff in order to prop up failing businesses.

Male Gaze

Male gaze was coined by British feminist film theorist Laura Mulvey in 1975.

Male gaze is a noun used to describe the assumption that the default or desired audience for visual and creative arts is heterosexual males, and that when women are included in the narrative, they should please this audience via objectification or sexualization.

Mulvey used the phrase the male gaze in her essay, "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema," to talk about the way that women were often depicted in film solely for the pleasure of heterosexual men on screen or in the audience. The term was meant to describe why women often had no stand-alone narrative arcs of their own.

Today we talk a lot about both the male gaze and ways to strike it from entertainment. The rise in female writers and directors has gone a long way in accomplishing that. The 2017 version of Wonder Woman is believed to be a prime example of a woman being portrayed on screen in a way that is not solely for the attention of men, thanks to a team of female writers and a female director.

#OscarsSoWhite

In 2015, activist April Reign coined #OscarsSoWhite.

The hashtag is used to call out the lack of diversity—especially people of color but also women and the LGBTQ community—in nominations for the Academy Awards, or Oscars. It has expanded as a call for greater inclusion of marginalized groups in all aspects of the film industry.

April Reign first tweeted the hashtag in January 2015 to critique the Academy Awards for their lack of representation (i.e., the Oscars are so white in who gets recognized). That year, only two people of color were nominated in major categories.

While #OscarsSoWhite originated as the setup for pointed jokes about the overwhelming whiteness of people nominated in the Oscars, it quickly spread as a way to raise consciousness about the need for greater diversity and inclusion.

Since 2015, the hashtag resurfaces every awards season. Reactions to the Oscar nominations every January are often met with #OscarsSoWhite as a way to address the problem of diversity in the film industry, both in front of and behind the camera.

Ada

Our last slide is a bit different. We're honoring a woman who created something unique but—as often happened in her time—didn't see her invention brought to life.

Ada, a noun that describes a programming language used in computers and developed for use by the US Department of Defense, was coined in honor of the English mathematician Augusta Ada King (née Byron), Countess of Lovelace. The daughter of poet Lord Byron and Lady Byron, she is credited as the world’s first computer programmer. 

Lovelace, who died in 1857, created what is believed to be the first computer program. Lovelace translated an article about a device known as an analytical engine, which inventor Charles Babbage hoped to build. She added notes (three times longer than the original article!), in which she explained how the engine could use codes to process letters and numbers. She also described a process known as looping today.

This accomplishment is especially impressive considering the program was written almost a century before the first computer was created in the 1930s. Lovelace died at 36 due to illness, but as an inventor, she worked hard to juggle family life (with three children), her household (as a noble woman), and a mathematics training that was unusual for women in her time.

The Dictionary Is More Than The Word Of The Day

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