The word "bitch", literally meaning a female dog
The domestic dog is a domesticated form of the gray wolf, a member of the Canidae family of the order Carnivora. The term is used for both feral and pet varieties. The dog may have been the first animal to be domesticated, and has been the most widely kept working, hunting, and companion animal in...

, is a common slang
Slang is the use of informal words and expressions that are not considered standard in the speaker's language or dialect but are considered more acceptable when used socially. Slang is often to be found in areas of the lexicon that refer to things considered taboo...

 term in the English language
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

, especially used as a denigrating term applied to a person, commonly a woman. It often refers to someone who is belligerent, unreasonable, rudely intrusive or aggressive.

Its original use as a vulgarism, documented to the fourteenth century, suggested high sexual desire in a woman, comparable to a dog in heat
In Heat
In Heat is Black 'n Blue's fourth album. It was produced by Kiss bassist Gene Simmons.-Track listing:# "Rock On" # "Sight For Sore Eyes"...

. The range of meanings has expanded in modern usage. In a feminist
Feminism is a collection of movements aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, and social rights and equal opportunities for women. Its concepts overlap with those of women's rights...

 context, it can indicate a strong or assertive woman, one who might make men feel threatened. When applied to a man, "bitch" is a derogatory term for a subordinate.


The term "bitch" comes from the 1150 word bicche, which was developed from the Old English word bicce. It also may have been derived from the Old Norse word bikkja for "female dog." The Oxford English Dictionary
Oxford English Dictionary
The Oxford English Dictionary , published by the Oxford University Press, is the self-styled premier dictionary of the English language. Two fully bound print editions of the OED have been published under its current name, in 1928 and 1989. The first edition was published in twelve volumes , and...

 dates the term meaning "female dog" to around 1000 A.D.

As a derogatory term for women, it has been in use since the fourteenth or fifteenth century. Its earliest slang meaning mainly referred to sexual behavior, according to the English language historian Geoffrey Hughes:

The early applications were to a promiscuous or sensual woman, a metaphorical
extension of the behavior of a bitch in heat. Herein lies the original point of the powerful
insult son of a bitch, found as biche sone ca. 1330 in Arthur and Merlin ... while in a
spirited exchange in the Chester Play
Chester Mystery Plays
The Chester Mystery Plays is a cycle of mystery plays dating back to at least the early part of the 15th century.A record of 1422 shows that the plays took place at the feast of Corpus Christi and this appears to have continued until 1521. Plays on Corpus Christi Day in 1475 included 'The trial...

 (ca. 1400) a character demands: “Whom callest thou
queine, skabde bitch?” (“Who are you calling a whore, you miserable bitch?”).

"Bitch" remained a strong insult through the nineteenth century. The entry in Francis Grose's
Francis Grose
Francis Grose was an English antiquary, draughtsman, and lexicographer. He was born at his father's house in Broad Street, St-Peter-le-Poer, London, son of a Swiss immigrant and jeweller, Francis Jacob Grose , and his wife, Anne , daughter of Thomas Bennett of Greenford in Middlesex...

 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1785) reads :

A she dog, or doggess; the most offensive appellation
that can be given to an English woman, even more
provoking than that of whore, as may be gathered from the
regular Billinsgate
Billingsgate is a small ward in the south-east of the City of London, lying on the north bank of the River Thames between London Bridge and Tower Bridge...

 or St Giles
St Giles, London
St Giles is a district of London, England. It is the location of the church of St Giles in the Fields, the Phoenix Garden and St Giles Circus. It is located at the southern tip of the London Borough of Camden and is part of the Midtown business improvement district.The combined parishes of St...

 answer--"I may be a
whore, but can't be a bitch."

Modern use

In modern usage the slang term bitch has different meanings depending largely on social context and may vary from very offensive to endearing, and as with many slang terms its meaning and nuances can vary depending on the region in which it is used.
The term can refer to a person or thing that is very difficult, as in "Life's a bitch." It is common for insults to lose intensity as their meaning broadens ("bastard" is another example). In the 1939 movie The Women
The Women (1939 film)
The Women is a 1939 American comedy-drama film directed by George Cukor. The film is based on Clare Boothe Luce's play of the same name, and was adapted for the screen by Anita Loos and Jane Murfin, who had to make the film acceptable for the Production Code in order for it to be released.The film...

, Joan Crawford could only allude to the word: "And by the way, there's a name for you ladies, but it isn't used in high society - outside of a kennel." At the time, use of the actual word would have been censored by the Hays Office. By 1974, Elton John
Elton John
Sir Elton Hercules John, CBE, Hon DMus is an English rock singer-songwriter, composer, pianist and occasional actor...

 had a hit single (#4 in the U.S. and #14 in the U.K.) with "The Bitch Is Back
The Bitch Is Back
"The Bitch Is Back" is a rock song by Elton John, written with Bernie Taupin. It was the second single released from his 1974 album Caribou, and reached number 1 in Canada , number 4 in the United States and number 15 in the United Kingdom. The song has been identified as is one of Elton John's...

", in which he says "bitch" repeatedly. It was, however, censored by some radio stations.

Modern use can include self-description, often as an unfairly difficult person. For example, in the New York Times bestseller
New York Times Best Seller list
The New York Times Best Seller list is widely considered the preeminent list of best-selling books in the United States. It is published weekly in The New York Times Book Review magazine, which is published in the Sunday edition of The New York Times and as a stand-alone publication...

 The Bitch in the House, a woman describes her marriage: "I'm fine all day at work, but as soon as I get home, I'm a horror....I'm the bitch in the house." Boy George
Boy George
Boy George is a British singer-songwriter who was part of the English New Romantic movement which emerged in the early 1980s. He helped give androgyny an international stage with the success of Culture Club during the 1980s. His music is often classified as blue-eyed soul, which is influenced by...

 admitted "I was being a bitch" in a falling out with Elton John.

Generally, the term is still considered offensive, and not accepted in formal situations. According to linguist Deborah Tannen, "Bitch is the most contemptible thing you can say about a woman. Save perhaps the four-letter C word
Cunt is a vulgarism, primarily referring to the female genitalia, specifically the vulva, and including the cleft of Venus. The earliest citation of this usage in the 1972 Oxford English Dictionary, c 1230, refers to the London street known as Gropecunt Lane...

It's common for the word to be censored on Prime time
Prime time
Prime time or primetime is the block of broadcast programming during the middle of the evening for television programing.The term prime time is often defined in terms of a fixed time period—for example, from 19:00 to 22:00 or 20:00 to 23:00 Prime time or primetime is the block of broadcast...

 TV, often rendered as "the b-word." During the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign, a John McCain
John McCain
John Sidney McCain III is the senior United States Senator from Arizona. He was the Republican nominee for president in the 2008 United States election....

 supporter referred to Hillary Clinton by asking, "How do we beat the bitch?" The event was reported in censored format:

On CNN's "The Situation Room," Washington Post media critic and CNN "Reliable Sources" host Howard Kurtz observed that "Senator McCain did not embrace the 'b' word that this woman in the audience used." ABC reporter Kate Snow adopted the same locution. On CNN's "Out in the Open," Rick Sanchez characterized the word without using it by saying, "Last night, we showed you a clip of one of his supporters calling Hillary Clinton the b-word that rhymes with witch." A local Fox 25 news reporter made the same move when he rhymed the unspoken word with rich.

Rick Sanchez
Rick Sanchez
Ricardo León "Rick" Sánchez de Reinaldo , known professionally as Rick Sanchez, is a Cuban-American journalist, author and former TV news anchor...

 of CNN
Cable News Network is a U.S. cable news channel founded in 1980 by Ted Turner. Upon its launch, CNN was the first channel to provide 24-hour television news coverage, and the first all-news television channel in the United States...

 went on to comment: "...a horrible word that is used to do nothing but demean women... Obviously, the word that's used here is very offensive."


In the context of modern feminism
Feminism is a collection of movements aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, and social rights and equal opportunities for women. Its concepts overlap with those of women's rights...

, "bitch" has varied reappropriated
Reappropriation is the cultural process by which a group reclaims—re-appropriates—terms or artifacts that were previously used in a way disparaging of that group. For example, since the early 1970s, much terminology referring to homosexuality—such as gay, queer, and faggot—has been reappropriated...

 meanings that may connote a strong female (anti-stereotype of weak submissive woman), cunning (equal to males in mental guile), or else it may be used as a tongue-in cheek backhanded compliment for someone who has excelled in an achievement. For example, Bitch magazine  describes itself as a "feminist response to pop culture."

Feminist attorney Jo Freeman
Jo Freeman
Jo Freeman is an American feminist, political scientist, writer and attorney. As a student at the University of California, Berkeley in the 1960s, she became active in organizations working for civil liberties and the civil rights movement...

 (Joreen) authored the "Bitch manifesto" in 1968:

A Bitch takes shit from no one. You may not like her, but you cannot ignore her....[Bitches] have loud voices and often use them. Bitches are not pretty....Bitches seek their identity strictly thru themselves and what they do. They are subjects, not objects...Often they do dominate other people when roles are not available to them which more creatively sublimate their energies and utilize their capabilities. More often they are accused of domineering when doing what would be considered natural by a man.

Pop culture

In a 2006 interview titled "Pop Goes the Feminist," Bitch magazine co-founder Andi Zeisler
Andi Zeisler
Andi Zeisler is a cofounder and editor of Bitch: Feminist Response of Pop Culture, a nonprofit independent quarterly magazine published in Portland, Oregon. Zeislers articles are on the “B-word” and how it is definitely an insult to women. According to the magazine's website, its mission is, in...

 explained the naming of the magazine:

When we chose the name, we were thinking, well, it would be great to reclaim the word “bitch” for strong, outspoken women, much the same way that “queer
Queer is an umbrella term for sexual minorities that are not heterosexual, heteronormative, or gender-binary. In the context of Western identity politics the term also acts as a label setting queer-identifying people apart from discourse, ideologies, and lifestyles that typify mainstream LGBT ...

” has been reclaimed by the gay
Gay is a word that refers to a homosexual person, especially a homosexual male. For homosexual women the specific term is "lesbian"....

 community. That was very much on our minds, the positive power of language reclamation.

Pop culture contains a number of slogans of self-identification
Identity (social science)
Identity is a term used to describe a person's conception and expression of their individuality or group affiliations . The term is used more specifically in psychology and sociology, and is given a great deal of attention in social psychology...

 based on "bitch". For example,
  • "You call me 'Bitch' like it's a bad thing."
  • "I go zero to bitch in 3.5 seconds."

There are several backronym
A backronym or bacronym is a phrase constructed purposely, such that an acronym can be formed to a specific desired word. Backronyms may be invented with serious or humorous intent, or may be a type of false or folk etymology....

s. Heartless Bitches International
Heartless Bitches International
Heartless Bitches International is a humorous women's website. It was started as a joke in 1996 by Ottawa, Canada software developer "Natalie P", satirizing the stereotype that all assertive, strong women are "heartless bitches"...

 is a club with the slogan "Because we know BITCH means: Being In Total Control, Honey!" Other imagined acronyms include
  • "Beautiful Intelligent Talented Creative Honest"
  • "Beautiful Individual That Causes Hardons
    Penile erection is a physiological phenomenon where the penis becomes enlarged and firm. Penile erection is the result of a complex interaction of psychological, neural, vascular and endocrine factors, and is usually, though not exclusively, associated with sexual arousal...

  • "Babe In Total Control of Herself".

Hip hop culture

The word bitch is frequently used among hip-hop artists and followers of the culture. The term is typically used to describe women in general rather than a specific woman. Adams and Fuller (2006) state that, in misogynistic rap, a bitch is a "money-hungry, scandalous, manipulating, and demanding woman." Many female hip hop artists have challenged male rappers' use of the word bitch to refer to women with Queen Latifah
Queen Latifah
Dana Elaine Owens , better known by her stage name Queen Latifah, is an American singer, rapper, and actress. Her work in music, film and television has earned her a Golden Globe award, two Screen Actors Guild Awards, two Image Awards, a Grammy Award, six additional Grammy nominations, an Emmy...

 asking in her song "U.N.I.T.Y.
"U.N.I.T.Y" is a Grammy Award-winning song by rapper/actress Queen Latifah's 1993 album, Black Reign. The single, released on January 6, 1994, spoke out against the disrespect of women in society, addressing issues of street harassment, domestic violence, and slurs against women in hiphop...

", "Who you callin' a bitch?"

In reference to men

When used to describe a male, "bitch" may also confer the meaning of subordinate, especially to another male, as in prison
A prison is a place in which people are physically confined and, usually, deprived of a range of personal freedoms. Imprisonment or incarceration is a legal penalty that may be imposed by the state for the commission of a crime...

. Generally, this term is used to indicate that the person is acting outside the confines of their gender roles, such as when women are assertive or aggressive, or when men are passive or servile.

In the context of prison sexuality
Prison sexuality
Prison sexuality deals with sexual relationships between confined individuals or those between a prisoner and a prison employee . Since prisons are separated by gender, most sexual activity is conducted with a same-sex partner, often in contradiction to a person's normal social sexual orientation...

, a bitch is a lower-hierarchy
A hierarchy is an arrangement of items in which the items are represented as being "above," "below," or "at the same level as" one another...

 prisoner, typically physically weak or vulnerable, who is dominated by more senior prisoners and forced to adopt a servile role. According to convention, these inmates are used as sexual slaves or traded as personal property.

A "prison bitch" can also refer to any subservient entity, as in the Douglas Rushkoff
Douglas Rushkoff
Douglas Rushkoff is an American media theorist, writer, columnist, lecturer, graphic novelist and documentarian. He is best known for his association with the early cyberpunk culture, and his advocacy of open source solutions to social problems.Rushkoff is most frequently regarded as a media...

 description of a Microsoft
Microsoft Corporation is an American public multinational corporation headquartered in Redmond, Washington, USA that develops, manufactures, licenses, and supports a wide range of products and services predominantly related to computing through its various product divisions...

 - Yahoo partnership: "Yahoo is merely hooking up with the most alpha male company it can still find in order to survive. Microsoft will soon turn Yahoo into its prison bitch, and this won’t be pretty."

In Russian criminal slang, by contrast, a "bitch" (suka, pl. suki in Russian) is a person from the criminal world who has cooperated with law enforcement or the government. Suki were placed on the bottom of the prisoner hierarchy. As the definition of "cooperation" was not confined to snitching, but included any form of collaboration, World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

 veterans returning to prison were declared suki, leading to the post-WW2 Bitch Wars
Bitch Wars
The Bitch Wars or Suka Wars occurred within the Soviet labor camp system between 1945 and around the death of Joseph Stalin in 1953.The Russian word suka "сука" has a stronger negative connotation than its English equivalent...


Son of a bitch

The term son of a bitch is a form of profanity
Profanity is a show of disrespect, or a desecration or debasement of someone or something. Profanity can take the form of words, expressions, gestures, or other social behaviors that are socially constructed or interpreted as insulting, rude, vulgar, obscene, desecrating, or other forms.The...

 usually used to refer to a man who is nasty, rude or otherwise offensive. In Shakespeare's King Lear
King Lear
King Lear is a tragedy by William Shakespeare. The title character descends into madness after foolishly disposing of his estate between two of his three daughters based on their flattery, bringing tragic consequences for all. The play is based on the legend of Leir of Britain, a mythological...

(1603), the Earl of Kent
Earl of Kent
The peerage title Earl of Kent has been created eight times in the Peerage of England and once in the Peerage of the United Kingdom.See also Kingdom of Kent, Duke of Kent.-Earls of Kent, first creation :*Godwin, Earl of Wessex...

 refers to Oswald as: "...nothing but the composition of a knave, beggar, coward, pandar, and the son and heir of a mongrel bitch..."

Its use as an insult is as old as that of "bitch". Euphemistic
A euphemism is the substitution of a mild, inoffensive, relatively uncontroversial phrase for another more frank expression that might offend or otherwise suggest something unpleasant to the audience...

 terms are often substituted, such as "gun" in the phrase "son of a gun
Son of a gun
Son of a gun is an exclamation or a noun in American and British English. Apollo 12 Astronaut Pete Conrad said, upon seeing the Surveyor 3 just prior to touching down on the Moon: "Hey, there it is! There it is! Son of a gun, right down the middle of the road!" It can be used encouragingly or to...

" as opposed to "son of a bitch", or "s.o.b." for the same phrase. Like "bitch," the severity of the insult has diminished. Roy Blount, Jr.
Roy Blount, Jr.
Roy Alton Blount, Jr. is an American writer. Best known as a humorist, Blount is also a reporter, actor, and musician with the Rock Bottom Remainders, a rock band composed entirely of writers. He is also a former president of the Authors Guild....

 recently extolled the virtues of "son of a bitch" (particularly in comparison to "asshole") in common speech and deed.

Bitch slap

The term "bitch slap" is derived from American slang. In the original sense, a bitch slap is a powerful, full-swing slap in the face with the front of the hand, evoking the way an angry pimp
A pimp is an agent for prostitutes who collects part of their earnings. The pimp may receive this money in return for advertising services, physical protection, or for providing a location where she may engage clients...

 might slap a defiant prostitute
Prostitution is the act or practice of providing sexual services to another person in return for payment. The person who receives payment for sexual services is called a prostitute and the person who receives such services is known by a multitude of terms, including a "john". Prostitution is one of...

 (not to be confused with a pimp slap which uses the back of the hand). However, the term is now frequently used figuratively to describe a humiliating defeat or punishment.

Riding bitch

"Riding bitch" is a slang term for riding pillion
A pillion is a mostly British English term for a secondary pad, cushion, or seat behind the main seat or saddle on a horse, motorcycle, bicycle or moped...

, sitting behind the driver on a motorcycle. It can also refer to sitting between others in a car.

In cards

To have the "bitch end" of a hand in poker is to have the weaker version of the same hand as another player. This situation occurs especially in poker games with community cards. For example, to have a lower straight than one's opponent is to have the bitch end.

"The bitch" is slang for the queen of spades.

Other forms

When used as a verb
A verb, from the Latin verbum meaning word, is a word that in syntax conveys an action , or a state of being . In the usual description of English, the basic form, with or without the particle to, is the infinitive...

, to bitch means to complain. Usage in this context is almost always pejorative
Pejoratives , including name slurs, are words or grammatical forms that connote negativity and express contempt or distaste. A term can be regarded as pejorative in some social groups but not in others, e.g., hacker is a term used for computer criminals as well as quick and clever computer experts...

 in intent. Allegedly, it was originally used to refer to the stereotypical
A stereotype is a popular belief about specific social groups or types of individuals. The concepts of "stereotype" and "prejudice" are often confused with many other different meanings...

A wife is a female partner in a marriage. The rights and obligations of the wife regarding her spouse and others, and her status in the community and in law, varies between cultures and has varied over time.-Origin and etymology:...

's constant complaints about petty things, effectively tying in the etymology with the vulgar slang for an unpleasant woman.

As an adjective, the term sometimes has a meaning opposite its usual connotations. Something that is bitching or bitchin' is really great. For example, an admired motorcycle may be praised as a "bitchin' bike".

See also

  • Bitch magazine
    Bitch (magazine)
    bitch, whose tagline is feminist response to pop culture, is an independent, quarterly magazine published in Portland, Oregon with more than 50,000 readers. bitch magazine is one branch of the reader-supported non-profit organization bitch media...

  • Bitch (Meredith Brooks song)
  • Third-wave feminism
    Third-wave feminism
    Third-wave feminism is a term identified with several diverse strains of feminist activity and study whose exact boundaries in the historiography of feminism are a subject of debate, but often marked as beginning in the 1980s and continuing to the present...

Further reading

  • Why Women Who Succeed Are Called Bitch by Leonard Pitts, Miami Herald, November 2007.
  • Bitch: In Praise of Difficult Women by Elizabeth Wurtzel
    Elizabeth Wurtzel
    Elizabeth Lee Wurtzel is an American corporate attorney, writer and journalist, known for her work in the confessional memoir genre. She is a graduate of Harvard College and Yale Law School.-Early life:...

  • The B-Word? You Betcha., The Washington Post
    The Washington Post
    The Washington Post is Washington, D.C.'s largest newspaper and its oldest still-existing paper, founded in 1877. Located in the capital of the United States, The Post has a particular emphasis on national politics. D.C., Maryland, and Virginia editions are printed for daily circulation...

  • Why Men Marry Bitches: A Woman's Guide to Winning Her Man's Heart by Sherry Argov
  • Hughes, Geoffrey. Encyclopedia of Swearing : The Social History of Oaths, Profanity, Foul Language, and Ethnic Slurs in the English-Speaking World. Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe, 2006.
  • The Bitch in the House: 26 Women Tell the Truth about Sex, Solitude, Work, Motherhood, and Marriage, Cathy Hanaeur, ed. Reviews in the Atlantic (magazine) by Sandra Tsing Loh
    Sandra Tsing Loh
    Sandra Tsing Loh is a Los Angeles, California-based writer, actress, performance-artist, pop-culture analyst, and radio commentator.-Biography:Loh is the daughter of a Chinese father and a German mother...
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