April 10th, 2000

Chicks, Dames & Broads

by Stephanie Segal • in Personal


“What’s in a name?” someone once posed. I’ve found myself pondering that very thing as a result of being exposed to a current trend at my workplace — the referring to girls, or to women, as “chicks”. Let it be said that I don’t like it in the least, as I am not infantile poultry of any kind, one the same as the next, helpless and feeble, though cute and chirping. No, that’s not quite how I’d describe myself at all. So I began thinking of the entire spectrum of terms for females, terms that have come and gone, or lasted the test of time. Here’s the review, in alphabetical order.

Very common, probably eternal. The most blatant instance of referring to women in terms that have to do with babies. Kind of odd when defined literally. A babe is a drooling, spitting diaper-wearer. Its blank mind is waiting for you to fill it. Also, it is prone to tantrums and crying till it gets what it wants. Not the most flattering of metaphors. Then again, babies are also extremely adorable and have the ability to fill onlookers with instant warmth, softness and love.

Still, who is responsible for this tendency of referring to US (team female!) with constant ties to infancy? I suppose “babe” is meant flatteringly and, when said in the right way, by the right guy, can make one feel pretty darn powerful/sexy/outright good, but overall, we are women! We are toilet trained! Would it be too much to ask for some recognition? Besides, going “cruising for babes” in literal terms would land you in a cell. Very weird terminology.

Beautiful Babies-40%
Truth be told, I’ve never heard anyone say this besides Vince Vaughn’s character in Swingers. Given said movie’s rather large cult following, I decided to include it and nip it in the bud. The addition of “beautiful” does little to erase the imagery described above, of a red-faced screaming tot. (When you think “beauty”, is this what comes to mind? Methinks no.) A grown man, referring to what he’d like to meet as a “beautiful baby”…in Swingers, it comes off as martini-chic; in reality, a wee bit belittling. A man is a man, and a woman is a baby? Nice.

European, definitely said with a British accent or the like. This list’s first animal kingdom entry (but not its last). Self check, ladies: Wings? No. Ability to fly? No. Beaks? No. Consumption of worms? No. The only common links I can see have to do with eggs and travelling in flocks — nothing overwhelmingly convincing. Then again, even I would love to go south for the winter. Regardless of the literal, this figurative term for a female human is one I like. It probably has more to do with the accent, and the fact that no nasty visual comes to mind. Rather an amusing one actually. Right. Pip pip and cheerio. This one is totally underused. Invite a bird over for tea.

A Sinatra-esque gangster-ism ring to it. A broad can take care of herself, is probably out for herself to begin with. She’s tough and not to be messed with. She might be intimidating, but also sensuous. Is she a tough broad? A dumb broad? A smart broad? Regardless, she is a broad to be reckoned with. Then some guy at work had to go and tell me that a broad is actually a cow. Cue the first barnyard animal entry to this list (but not the last). What’s up with that? Somewhere back in history, someone thought it might be sweet to refer to a woman as a cow? I don’t get it. Yet, I still like hearing “you broads”. Bring it back, boys. Show us you see what we’re made of. Moo.

Boo! The most offensive back-to-the-barnyard-baby entry. I loathe it, probably because of the modern-day plague of its rampant use. I picture the last scenes of Baraka, where chicks are being funnelled down an industrial belt, identical and interchangeable and in serious need of help. Maybe it’s this image that makes this word get to me so badly. Referring to women this way, whether or not you have seen or will ever see Baraka, remains completely without charm or class. Any implied connection is insulting. You say it, you sound like a farmer with a fetish. Wanna pick up chicks? Better head to Kentucky.

The only thing to rival “broads” on this list, and the only one that has an explanation for how it wound up as a term for “female”. “Dame” is French for “woman”, though it’s pronounced the same as a beaver’s “dam” (no beaver jokes, gutter-mouths!). This girl-nomer entry rhymes with “same”, and has a “can’t live with ‘em, can’t live without ‘em” quality I find irresistable. Implies the hold a woman can have over a man. I picture a Sinatra-era guy shaking his head, muttering “dames” under his breath, tortured, at once loving us and hating us. It’s great.

As in guys and dolls. Very Happy Days. In this entry lies the inherent unfairness of guy labels vs. girl labels. Every boy is a boy, every man is a man and every guy is a guy, every single one. But is every girl a doll? Considering Barbie…no. It’s just not right. There is redemption in this: not every guy is a stud, and not every guy is a dude. Studs and dudes are fewer and farther between than dolls. Guys’ chances at dude-dom are low, especially dude-dom à la Lloyd Dobbler in Say Anything, holding that stereo blasting “In Your Eyes“. To be at once so sappy and yet so cool? Fat chance, guys. Chances at Righteous Dude-dom are nil, as that position is held by one person alone. Ferris Bueller. Only Ferris. Forever Ferris. OK, I’ve digressed. The point is this: we may have Barbie to fail to live up to, but guys have the infinite fictional shadows of Ferris and Lloyd to walk in. So there. I must confess to being completely guilty of referring to many of the endeared males in my life as “doll”, so it’s not all bad. (cough*hypocrite*cough. I know.)

Barnyard, total barnyard. How the direct links from the farm to the essence of woman began, I will never comprehend. At least this term is long gone, collecting dust, as it well should. A baby horse. I mean, really.

Acceptable, if the girl being labelled is known by the user. Sugar and spice and everything nice. I’ll allow it. Only bad when used by strangers, forcing the reply, “Oh, and I’m not your honey”. And I bet every girl has said that, at least once.

More from Europe, and quite literally means “girl”. When said, it sounds to me as though “darling girl” is intended. “Lass” works well, too. It has nothing to do with the collie. It has nothing to do with the collie. It has nothing to do with the collie.

And there you have it. That’s all I came up with. I inquired as to what French Canadian terminology is used when garçons check out filles. I was told “petard” (pronounced “pet-R”, as in the letter “r”). Literal translation: firecracker. By far beating all on the English list, as the best representation of what women are. I know it’s “chick” I’ll hear all day long, but it’s all right. A rose by any other name is still a rose.

(Disclaimer: The above list is G-rated, not because I am a fan of censorship, but because I choose not to honour obvious derogatory and crude terms with recognition.)

Synonyms for “girls” 0% - 95%


NotABird said:

Bird… birdbrain? I see a trend from the first 3 of low-brain function back to the barnyard terminology. Although I do agree that dame, broad, and lass are the best of the set of references.

March 9th, 2010 at 3:42 pm

ian Welsh said:

I’d put most of them at the same level, except fillies higher (fillies are adorable, far more so than chicks). As for Honey, when I used to work with southerners, I got called Honey all the time. Every single day.

May 17th, 2010 at 10:58 pm

Marian said:

There was a wonderful musical play called “Girls, Chicks, Babes, Broads,Dames, Dolls and Bitches” in the 1970s, produced in Santa Barbara, California. It was put together entirely by women. The main song started, “Girls, Chicks, Babes, Broads,Dames, Dolls and Bitches. If we’re tough they call us dykes and if we’re wise we’re witches.” I have been trying to find this play so it could be produced elsewhere. It was great!

February 18th, 2011 at 6:47 pm

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