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

White fragility was coined by academic and author Robin DiAngelo 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

The new addition for March 2nd is Spoon Theory. It 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

The new addition for March 3rd is Mondegreen, which was coined by writer Sylvia Wright 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.

The Dictionary Is More Than The Word Of The Day

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