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Women, Womyn, Wimmin

The following brief discussion of alternative spellings of "women"
took place on WMST-L in September 2000.  For additional WMST-L files
now available on the Web, see the WMST-L File Collection.
Date: Fri, 08 Sep 2000 12:01:25 +0800
From: Tamarah Cohen <tamarahc @ KHC.KANSAI-GAIDAI-U.AC.JP>
Subject: 'womyn'/'wimmin'
I am sending out the letter (below) to as many people as I can in the hope
that I might begin to formulate a reasonably coherent response to at least
some of the questions it poses. After days on the Internet and in the
library, I have come to nothing more than the obvious: "'wimmin' is a
semi-phonetic spelling of 'women', recently adopted by feminists...."
(OED, 1989). "Feminists," eh?

Know that if you choose to respond, your letter may be shared with WHW
group members.

To whom this concerns,

I am writing from Japan, where I recently joined an organization by the
name of "Wimmin-Helping-Wimmin," which I assumed was Lesbian in
orientation owing to the choice of word, 'wimmin', in its title. I was
wrong. When I pointed out to its organizers that they might be attracting
the wrong kind of crowd -- WHW has *no* apparent interest in lesbian
issues -- they insisted that 'wimmin' is in fact not a lesbian signifier
at all, simply (generically) "feminist."

Could I ask you to comment on this issue, i.e., Who coined womyn/wimmin
(e.g., 70's Rad-Lesbian Separatists/Black-Feminists)?  Did it once, or has
it ever, signified Lesbian exclisively?  If so, when did it come to be
appropriated by non-Lesbians? Etc.)

Many thanks in advance,

Tamarah Cohen

Tamarah Cohen
e-mail: tamarahc  @  khc.kansai-gaidai-u.ac.jp
Date: Fri, 08 Sep 2000 08:16:43 -0700
From: "deborah a. miranda" <dmiranda @ U.WASHINGTON.EDU>
Subject: Re: 'womyn'/'wimmin'
To generalize my own brief research into this word based on a student's
question last year, it seems that we found more definitions and
origin-rationales for these spellings/changes among "anti-feminists" than
feminists.  In other words, my students found that conservative/pro-life
web page authors tended to define the term at all, while feminist or
lesbian web page authors tended to use the word(s) w/o definition; which
led us to suggest that the definition of the word(s) was contained within
the content and context of the work and meant to be intuited or assumed by
the reader.

We didn't find anyone claiming the "w" words were exclusively lesbian, but
it certainly was *implied* on many sites.  However, it is also used as a
gloss word for feminist or woman-centered issues.  We did not find any
sites that claimed the words have been co-opted.  This doesn't mean they
haven't been, as our research was of the quick and dirty variety.

But, we did find a web page which championed "girl" rather than any "w"
alternatives, w/ a good defense.  Here are some of the websites we found:


"Wimmin, Wiccans and Goddess Worship" by Allan Turner:

Adam was created first and existed for some time before Eve was formed;
therefore, one must conclude that Eve was not to be Adam's leader.
Recalling God's declaration before His forming of Eve makes this clear: It
is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for
him (Genesis 2:18). The Lord then presented her to him. It was then that
Adam declared her to be bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh (Genesis
2:22-24). Then Adam, the Man (Ish), called her Woman (Isha) because she
was taken out of Man. Paul, in arguing that the head of the woman is the
man in I Corinthians 11:3, stated it thusly: For the man is not of the
woman; but the woman of the man. Neither was the man created for the
woman; but the woman for the man (I Corinthians 11:8-9. In other words,
both her origin and name are derived [from man] and thus second and
secondary and not first and primary.30 This is why the terms womin and
wimmin are preferred by today's Jehovah-hating, radical feminists.

While she snivels about "gender discrimination" and "misogyny," a
Neofeminist refuses to use the word "woman" because it is derived from the
word "man." She uses instead the words "wimmin," "wymyn, or "womyn" [sic,
sic, sic]. Some Neofeminists despise men so much that they dehumanize them
with such descriptions as "pentapods."

Why I Am A Girl (part two)
(from Kikizine #2) As I discussed last time, the word is girl. But I've
found even more reasons since then to believe so...I looked into the
origin of the word "woman" -- it originally comes from the term wifmann,
meaning basically "wife/female of a human being". It slowly evolved into
the words wimman, wumman, and finally woman. So even if you misspell it to
remove the male pronoun, it's still a crap word. It just makes you the
"wife of a myn" or something. So I looked up "female". Interestingly
enough, it has nothing to do with the word "male". It was misspelled
sometime between 1000 and 1500 as "female" to make it look more like the
word "male", but it was originally spelled femelle, and descended from the
Latin femina, or woman. This looked promising, as femina (plural feminie)
is totally unrelated to the Latin words for man/male, vir, or man/human
being, homo. But the probable (while hypothetical) origins of the Latin
term lie in a prehistoric root (dhe) meaning "to suckle", which somehow
became femina, (as well as felare, to suck; filius/filia, son/daughter;
and fetus, progeny). So the implications of the word are tied up in
motherhood and fertility. Keep looking. So, on to my word, girl. It comes
directly from the word girle (earlier gurle) which for several centuries
(until the 1500s or so) meant a young person of either gender. (It is
tentatively assumed, if you want to know, to come from an older word,
gyrele, which came from the prehistoric root gher, or small.) Eventually
it was only applied to young females until their marriage. (At which time
they got to be a woman, the "wife of a human being", oh boy!) "Girl" was
originally non-gender specific, carries no history of "womanly
occupations", and in fact implies not being an appendage to a man. (i.e.,
implies independence.) So, I still say I'm a GIRL. I guess this means
someday I'll have to be an old girl, but maybe by then we'll think of
something even better. And in the meantime I'll be whatever kind of girl I
want to be.

Deborah A. Miranda
English Department
Director, EOP Writing Program
University of Washington
Box 354330   Seattle, WA  98195
vm: 206-685-2461
email: <dmiranda  @  u.washington.edu>
Date: Fri, 08 Sep 2000 11:47:40 -0400
From: Deborah Louis <louis @ UMBC.EDU>
Subject: Re: 'womyn'/'wimmin'
i never thought to put "wimmin" in the same linguistic category as
"womyn"--personally, i've been using the term since grade school, as
have most of the people i know, in popular-dialect writing as one would
use terms and spellings like ain't, shuckin', grub, booze, cuz, vittles,
chillun, durn, etc...

"womyn" seems to me to be compatible with other old celtic/gaelic
spellings frequently used and referenced by contemporary feminists...

debbie <louis  @  umbc.edu>
Date: Fri, 08 Sep 2000 18:44:05 -0800
From: Max Dashu <maxdashu @ LANMINDS.COM>
Subject: Re: 'womyn'/'wimmin'
I agree with Deborah Louis: "wimmin" was already in common use before the
second wave. (as in, for example, 50's comics with male characters rolling
their eyes and saying , "Wimmin!") This got adopted in the second wave as a
slangy, dashing, somewhat humorous way to say "women."

70s feminists invented "womyn" to circumvent the "man" perceived in
"woman," and "men" in "women," as a way of declaring that women were not
secondary or derivative from a masculine default. It was not exclusively
used by lesbians; radical feminists of various stripes adopted it --see Off
Our Backs and any number of feminist publications -- but my experience has
always been that it was/is mainly used by lesbians, and especially

Max Dashu    <www.suppressedhistories.net>
International Women's Studies since 1970
 <maxdashu  @  lanminds.com>

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