Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Bimbo - An Acceptably Misogynistic Word

Bimbo, Stupid, Bad driver. Women, Woman, Girl, Sexism, Misogyny

BIMBO

Noun. Slang (usually derogatory). Plural bimbos or bimboes. Early 20th century.
[Italian = little child, baby.]

1. A fellow, a chap. E20

2. A woman, especially a sexually attractive or provocative but empty-headed or unintelligent one. E20

Also: bimbette noun a young (female) bimbo L19

Bimbo is an interesting word for a number of reasons. Firstly, it's Italian, contracted from the better known bambino, meaning 'little child or baby'. Secondly, it wasn't always so gender-specific. In the 1920s, a bimbo was more likely to have been an uncultivated or loutish man; P.G Wodehouse was fond of the term in this sense, using it in several of the Jeeves and Wooster stories.

Its modern usage has narrowed, however, and the epithet bimbo, always derogatory, conjures a very particular image of a women: probably physically attractive, quite possibly of loose morals, and most definitely a few clowns short of a circus. She's also probably blonde, superficial, and a devoted follower of fashion (though without the corresponding good taste).

Considering the litany of aspersions the word bimbo casts upon a woman called such, it seems bizarre that it has the apparent level of acceptability that it does; one could hear the word bimbo at any number of social functions, used by men and women, without it ever being seriously challenged or without it causing particular offense. Other words that call a woman's virtue into question, such as slut or slapper, carry a considerably harsher tone and are likely to provoke a vociferous reaction.

I've been trying to decide why this is; why does bimbo seem to sneak under the PC radar? Part of the reason might be the word itself - it's rather soft and bubbly, lacking the hard, terminal consonant sounds that are needed to cause real offense. Perhaps also the slurs are diluted - unlike a repulsive word like slut, this isn't solely about a woman's sexual morals or promiscuity; in fact, it's not even clearly about that. Somehow, bimbo is a bit wishy-washy - not committing to definitely stating anything with any conviction: "Yeah she's none too clever and prob'ly a bit of a slapper, but she's not half a looker though, eh?"

While arguments can be made for its use in English ("Bimbos exist - we might not like the fact, but bimbo describes them and we understand what's meant"), I must admit that each time I've come across the word in a non-scholarly context, misogyny and sexism don't seem far behind (such as in articles by, surprise, surprise, The Daily Mail and The Sun). This, together with its lack of corresponding epithets for men, makes me dislike the word bimbo in its modern usage. It sneaks in, under the cover of playfulness and fun, but ultimately is only a thinly disguised variant of the misogyny that exists both culturally and linguistically in English.

Do you have any thoughts on the word bimbo? Is it not as acceptable as I think it is? Is it perfectly valid?

Do please comment in the section below, and don't forget to share and tweet the post. 

22 comments:

  1. I've never thought of bimbo as a derogatory term.
    Growing up in N.Z. it was applied mostly in the empty-headed sense to either males or females, but as time went by, mainly to females.
    As and adult, I've always thought of a bimbo as a stupid blonde.

    Now that I think about it, I rarely use it now. Maybe because it's usage has changed?
    Or maybe because there's no more bimbos? Nah, doubt that one! :) As you said, they do exist!

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    1. I've never known it to be applied to men, other than in a jocular way. Apparently, 'himbo' and 'mimbo' exist for guys, but they're never going to catch on, are they? : o )

      I've been thinking about whether I use it too - and I don't *think* I do, but I know it doesn't carry the sting of some of the other words. Considering what it means and all of its negative connotations, I'm curious as to why.

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  2. Yes, calling someone stupid is derogatory.




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    1. Yes, it is. But then sometimes stupidity needs to be called.

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  3. I've never really thought of 'bimbo' in the slutty way. To me, the word doesn't imply anything sexual, it's mainly focused on the lack of intelligence and, what you didn't mention, the fact that said bimbo is most likely way too gullible to walk the face of the earth.

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    1. When writing this, Bibi, I was thinking about whether 'dumb blonde' and 'bimbo' are synonymous, but the sexual element was what made me conclude they're not. Whereas 'dumb blonde' specifically attacks a woman's intelligence (and possibly her manner), it doesn't really say anything about her morality. The term 'bimbo' does, at least by indirectly. Consistently when talking to people about what 'bimbo' means to them, people would reference dress - cleavage, short skirts, heavy make-up, etc, together with flirtatious and provocative behaviour. This is the image that it evokes - with an accompanying negative assumption on her morality.

      You're right about gullibility - it definitely suggests that. But then gullibility is just an extension of the stupidity, isn't it?

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  4. "Bimbo is a little boy who's got a million friends,
    And every time he passes by, they all invite him in.
    He'll clap his hands and sing and dance, and talk his baby talk,
    With a hole in his pants and his knees a-stickin' out,
    he's just big enough to walk."

    http://youtu.be/PWPQhH4N4fs

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    1. Awww. I enjoyed that video; that particular Bimbo does indeed sound very happy : o )

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  5. Hi Ed,

    just a bit of related trivia... The Mexico national football has just been sponsored by a Mexican Bakery called 'Bimbo'. The word 'Bimbo' is plastered across the front of their football jerseys. I tried emailing you a picture of it last night to use... Very funny to see these hunky lads with 'Bimbo' written across them!

    Chlobo

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    1. You beat me to mentioning this fact, which I, for one, learned from playing waaaay too much FIFA 12.

      They sponsor several clubs as well, such as Chivas and América.

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    2. Oh yes! Wow ... is this the picture you wanted to send me? Honestly, what's remotely funny about that? *sniggers*

      Apparently, however, not everyone does think it's funny - Grupo Bimbo have also sponsored US teams, with one such move prompting ESPN to run the very serious headline "Is the Union's New Sponsorship Sexist?". Hmm indeed.

      Nick - are you on Xbox Live? We'll have to organise a game on Fifa one day, with us both playing Bimbo sponsored teams : o )

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  6. Very interesting article today Ed and I think that the angles you've looked at it from open up all sorts of issues relating to language - particularly context: personal and cultural - both of which are changeable over time. I love language - never stands still! Speaking for myself, when I was younger, I would have a mental image of a blond, pretty but vacuous girl when I heard the word. These days, I would use the word for a male or female of any age and appearance if they were acting daft, although I wouldn't see it as a permanent label, just a passing acknowledgement of their moment of ditziness. I certainly don't find it offensive or feel I'm being offensive if I use it :o)

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    1. So you've experienced the opposite evolution of bimbo, one in which it's reverted from being female-specific to now being said of both sexes. That is interesting - I haven't come across that anywhere else (and I've been reading *a lot* about bimbos over the past few days) : o )

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  7. Pamela Anderson to me fits the description of a Bimbo..or who Reese Witherspoon plays in "Legally Blonde"...

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    1. Yes, that's definitely the stereotype that bimbo calls to mind.

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    2. And yet Reese Witherspoon's character defies it in her particular brand of intelligence. Yet I would also still tend to apply the word to the character.

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    3. You're right, Kara. I had to think for a second about the Legally Blonde franchise, and you've made me think about it some more. It's kind of the twist of the movie, though, isn't it? She's a bimbo (or a dumb blonde more than a bimbo), and yet she turns out to be smart and less shallow than the non-bimbos/dumb blondes around her.

      What? Yes, I've seen Legally Blonde! I was at someone's house, OK? : o )

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    4. Haha oh Ed. Yes, I have to admit I saw it as well - slightly shameful. I watched it with my family as a teenager, and my dad thought it was hilarious actually. I must admit that I do enjoy the conclusion of the movie and her success. She was genuinely nice really ... defying my stereotype about blonde, beautiful women haha. (Perhaps I'm just jealous :p)

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  8. Do you ever get 'Bimbo' mixed up with 'Rambo'? I lost a limb in 'naam when I asked this blonde to hold my gun while I scratched my nose.

    -armless

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    1. No, I don't think I do, but I did just accidentally say 'Bambo' while reading your comment - now *that* would be a revenge movie. It could be "Bambo: First Cud".

      PS - Please no one comment / write / email / tweet, etc, to tell me that deer don't chew the cud. It was a good joke, OK?

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  9. To call one a bimbo is to point out lack of mature substance. It is distinctly masculine in form though. Strange we don't say "bimba" instead. It is stupid to say "himbo" of a man instead of "bimbo".

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