Etymological Musings 2: Spinsters

Spinster was originally a female spinner of thread (14th century); it became a legal designation of an unmarried woman, as unmarried women were expected to sit home and spin fibers into thread. By the 18th century, it became a pejorative for any unmarried woman past a certain age.

Reading Helen Oyeyemi’s Mr. Fox, I quickly realized that I would have been considered a spinster, given the fact that I am an unmarried woman past thirty- the “spinster” character was 38! But in 2020, mid-thirties does not feel spinster-ish. Sure, social media reminds you on a daily basis of your single-hood, and between misogyny and patriarchy, many of the decent guys have been snatched up already. Harrowing thoughts of perpetual single-hood are demons that torment me in my nightmares, but by no means do I consider myself a spinster- I’m not there yet, so don’t count me out quite yet.

The connotation behind spinster is a woman that is unmarried because she is undesirable- the idea is that a woman past the age of 26 or so is unmarried because there hasn’t been a man that would want to marry them. If that’s the measuring stick for being a spinster, then I’m definitely safe, as I can confidently say there have been multiple men that would have me as their betrothed.

And also, what’s the pejorative term for unmarried thirty-something year old men? Oh, there isn’t one you say. Just further evidence of the machismo biases.

As an aside, every time I think of the word spinster, a spoof of 50 Cent’s Wanksta plays in my head. (Note to self- I should make spoof Spinster song.)

Smh, language is so revealing, which is why to me, EtymologyRules is key.

BTW, some women are attempting to reclaim and ameliorate the term spinster. A noble notion, but I think we should dismiss the term as a way to define unmarried women and bring back to its original- one who spins. In that case, I’d be a spinster- someone who is spinning my wheels trying to figure out why society hates or fears an unmarried woman.

An attempt to redefine and rebrand the word.
Reclaiming Spinster!



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