Earlier this morning while I was working on a review of The Ask (it’ll be on MN Reads tomorrow), I looked up the word philandering. I was doing it more to make sure I was spelling it correctly and not for the meaning. I was pretty sure I knew what it meant. It meant someone who cheated on their spouse. Right? Well, sort of.
From Merriam-Webster: of a man: to have casual or illicit sex with a woman or with many women; especially : to be sexually unfaithful to one’s wife
From Dictionary.com: (of a man) to make love with a woman one cannot or will not marry; carry on flirtations.
I guess I didn’t have any notion that the term was so gender-specific. Though if I guess using these definitions you could extrapolate that anyone who has illicit sex with a woman or a woman one cannot marry it coud apply to lesbians. But if you look at the word’s origins, it’s pretty clear they meant men:
1737, from Philander, popular name for a lover in stories, drama, and poetry, from Gk. adj. philandros “with love for people,” perhaps mistaken as meaning “a loving man,” from phil- “loving” + andr-, stem of aner “man.” Philanderer “male flirt” is from 1841.
Anyway, it seemed weird after learning all this to call the woman in The Ask a philanderer. So I did what every lazy writer does, I turned to Twitter for the answer.
I got: Slutty, slut, whore, one vote for using the word to describe a woman anyway, and cuckoldy (my favorite). And the comedians on Facebook came up with: Slutting around, Ho’in it up, and Ridiculous. Women are just as likely to collect stamps as men are (which made me laugh, thanks Barrett).
Interesting aside, the origins of cuckold:
Word History: The allusion to the cuckoo on which the word cuckold is based may not be appreciated by those unfamiliar with the nesting habits of certain varieties of this bird. The female of some Old World cuckoos lays its eggs in the nests of other birds, leaving them to be cared for by the resident nesters. This parasitic tendency has given the female bird a figurative reputation for unfaithfulness as well.
Really, I supposed she would be a cuckolding (making her husband a cuckold) but it doesn’t sound as elegant as philandering. Why I was going for elegant, I don’t know. But it is weird that a man gets to be something elegant sounding while a woman ends up being a whore/slut (and I can’t even talk about the bullshit phrase man-whore without my head exploding).
All this is to say that I have decided we need to bring back strumpet. It’s a good, solid word that is ready for a comeback.