How did the word "bitch" come to be associated with ...

with a nasty or mean lady?

I know - of course - that it is synonymous with a female dog. But is there any connection between that and a nasty or mean lady?

I Googled “what is the connection between “bitch” and nasty lady” but found nothing promising.

I also went to “www.ask.com” and was surprised to see that site was taken over by Google and now, when you go to that site, you are taken directly to Google.

Would anyone know the connection between “bitch” and mean or nasty lady?

Other than simple misogyny, you mean?

I’ve got a theory about it, but it’s not bolstered with sufficient research. Here it is, for what it’s worth.
In classical Rome, lupa = “she-wolf” not only meant a female wolf, but also meant a prostitute. The brothel in Pompeii was known as the lupanar, meaning “wolf den”.

I suspect that calling a woman a “bitch” = “she-dog” was an only slightly veiled way of calling her a “she-wolf” = “whore”.

The practice of insulting women by calling them “she-dogs” or “bitches” goes back many centuries. I’ve encountered enough examples to show me that this isn’t a recent use of the term (although the characterization of a “bitch” as a nasty, petty woman might be), but I can’t recall the examples now, and can’t say how far back they go.
So there you go. Although calling any person, man or woman, a “dog” has been an insult for quite a while, it hasn’t the bite that “bitch” has, and I suspect that the further implication of sexual impropriety is what originally gave it the extra offensiveness. Today, people have forgotten the original intention, but the stigma attached to the insult remains.

There is, not surprisingly, a Wikipedia page devoted to the use of “bitch” as an insult. Here’s what it saus about the history of the word:


Note that, although it doesn’t trace the use back to Latin, it does equate “bitch” to “sexually licentious” as the root of the insult. It derives this from the behavior of a female dog “in heat”. This isn’t inconsistent with my suggestion – lots of different groups having dogs must have observed the behavior of sexually active female dogs and drawn the same parallel. That the Romans used the term shows that the concept goes back before 1100 CE.

Female dogs have a reputation for being less obedient and loyal than the males. This is even more so when they are in heat, gravid, and raising a litter. It’s also a broad generalization, and perhaps not true at all. Have you ever seen the males when a female in heat is in the area? Far from loyal and obedient in that case. I’m guessing the most effective part of the insult is that women don’t like being compared to dogs, while men can take it as a compliment.

It seems to me calling a woman a dog in heat is pretty clear.

This is particularly American. On this side of the Atlantic, calling a woman a bitch would be pretty rude, but not horrifically so. It’s a term more likely to be used by a woman about another woman, implying that the “bitch” had done her a disservice. “mean or nasty lady?” would be fairly accurate.

In Spanish perra (female dog) is also an insulting term for a woman but has more of a connotation of “prostitute” rather than someone who is ill-tempered. Zorra (vixen, female fox) is probably more common.

That ties in well with the Roman uses I cite above.

Oh no. Really? The greatest dog I ever knew was a female.

The Greatest Dog I Ever Knew:

One evening many years ago, I drove into a donut shop and she was roaming around the parking lot looking very scared and lonely - very extremely scared!

I called over to her and motioned for her to come see me. She jumped right into my car and she would not leave my side from that moment on. For the first few days I had her, she got a grip on me - both physically and emotionally and she never, ever let go.

I never ever understood how it was that someone would abandon the greatest dog in the world. I kid you not! She was def the greatest dog in this world. Bar none! At least the greatest that I ever met. She was just wonderful!

She was a medium sized dog. She looked a little like a mix between a German Shepard and a Labrador. But her personality and her character were just perfect! Absolutely perfect. I never met a dog like her before or since. She was just amazing

One day I’ll tell you the entire story. My friendship with her was def one of the happiest chapters in my life!

I’m not sure I understand what you mean. If you’d like to explain it, I’d be happy to understand.

Do you mean to say that anytime someone calls a woman a “bitch” they are exhibiting symptoms of misogyny?

If they are seriously trying to insult her, I don’t see why that would mean that using that word would qualify them as a misogynist. But, is that what you mean?

I just wanted to say that I was very impressed with the effort you must have made to produce such a comprehensive explanation.

I have never started a thread in this forum before and I was very surprised to see so many quality responses. Really, very impressed.

Back when I was looking to get my first dog and was talking with different breeders and going to shows, it was odd hearing the B word tossed about so casually.

? The term “dog” for a man is definitely not a compliment in English. Shakespeare alone has a zillion uncomplimentary uses of the term:

And hundreds more. While it’s true that modern slang does include some jokingly affectionate senses of “dog” as a term for a man, it’s not so much a compliment as a well-known traditional insult used in jest.

Yes, I suppose you have it right historically. I was thinking of modern usage like “You sly dog”, which is used as a compliment but there are probably a lot more derogatory uses.

Fer cryin out loud yer all way off base. Bitch began becomin popular again when bikers started referrin to their women as bitches in the late 50s, early 60s.

Phu Cat

But as I said, phrases like “you sly dog” are perceived as complimentary only because they’re insults used jokingly.

“Sly dog” definitely started out as a non-ironic derogatory expression for a man who was both sly, i.e., underhanded and deceitful, and a dog, i.e., a skulking cur, a craven who’s too ignoble to pursue his aims openly.

It was traditionally used in its primary sense as a deliberate insult, and resented as such, as in the following dialogue:

I don’t think there’s any phrase using “dog” as an epithet for a man in the English language that didn’t originate as a straightforward direct insult, even if it later developed an indirect implication of a jesting compliment.

In high school, a friend of mine who was a Spanish exchange student was amazed to hear an attractive woman called a “fox” and said it was an insult for a woman back home.

I’ve always told people that called me a bitch that they are correct. I am a Babe In Total Control of Herself. Narcissistic? Maybe, but it shuts them up.

I word I learned (to me vaguely insulting, but language by its nature is a YMMV thing), and may be from the South, but I have seen it only coupled to President Bill Clinton, is “horn-dog.”

Re YMMV: men are praised for sexual conquest often with no regard to any otherwise immorality–or precisely because of it.