Daily Archives: October 13, 2011

hussy

OK, what word comes before this one? Yes, I know, immediately you think Olivia, but in fact the actress who starred in Zeffirelli’s 1968 Romeo and Juliet is Olivia Hussey with an e. I suppose the Montagues might have thought Juliet Capulet was a shameless hussy, though…

Oh, yes, shameless. That’s the big winner in the collocation contest. Number two is brazen. We know what a hussy is: that husband-stealer who wears deep red lipstick, the sort of woman who gives every decent housewife a hissy fit and sends her off in a huff, even as the husbands think “Huzzah!” And I won’t mention the resemblance of this word to another one that starts with a p but curiously doesn’t rhyme with this one… I won’t mention it not because I’m still on a paralipsis kick but because it would probably trip off every stupid spam and smut filter out there.

Still, I wonder if this word might be undergoing a bit of a rehabilitation. I say this because on a store window today I saw a display for Merle Norman’s Hussy Collection, a set of cosmetics (lipstick, lip gloss, lip liner, nail polish) in a truly lurid red, just the sort of thing you imagine the hourglass-shaped maneaters in film noir and hardboiled ’40s films wearing (imagine because, after all, the films were in black and white). Very Jessica Rabbit: “Get out of here. Give me some money too.” (You can see the curve and sway of her hips and bust in the ss.) Makeup for women who aren’t bad but want to be drawn that way, maybe to fly off with their mad men on Pan Am…

Well, if hussy gains a more positive tone, it’s only fair; it’s had something of a downturn in the past half-millennium. After all, it started out as a contracted form of huswyf or huswif – a word we now spell as housewife. At first hussy named a frugal domestic engineer. The prejudices of the times (not altogether gone from our own) led from that to a sense of a rural, uneducated woman. And from that to a rude one. A nasty one. A nasssssty one. Mmmm… a minx. Oh yess. A hussy. Maybe with a husky voice, and flounces all fluffy… ready to ride off on a horsey with some rural Romeo.

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