The Toad's Words

Excursus #21

Spring is allergy season, especially in Santa Barbara. They say that the term "spring fever" is a result of spring allergies causing languor. In our house it seems that spring allergies cause more anger than languor. Then the antihistamines get taken and we see irritability. Fortunately, there are words that describe people suffering from spring allergies.

Virago, noun

Pronounced va (a in about) rah go, accent on rah. Sometimes - va ray go.

A violent, bad-tempered, scolding or domineering woman. Also, it can mean a strong courageous woman such as an amazon.

From the Latin root "vir" meaning man and was first used in English in an early translation of the Bible for the name given to Eve by Adam. Apparently, Adam said that the being created out of his flesh would "be called 'virago,' for she is taken of man."

Matthew's mother was such a virago when she was coaching the soccer team, that by the end of the season, Matthew was the only one who had not quit the team.

Termagant, noun

Pronounced ter ma gant (a=s as in about), accent on ter

A quarreling, violent, scolding woman. Pretty much the same as a virago.

When Termagant is capitalized it refers to an imaginary Moslem deity of the Saracens, who, in medieval Europe was portrayed in morality plays as an overbearing, violent, ranting person. Because Termagant was dressed in long flowing robes, he was mistaken for a woman and hence the present (since 1659) definition of the word.

Termagant was originally 'Tervagant' (which came from Old French) but over time the "m" replaced the "v." The French version came from the Italian Trivigante. It is not certain the origin of this word. Some say it has an ancient Middle Eastern origin. Others contend it derives from Latin words tri - three and vagari - to wander and means 'three-wandering.' This is an allusion to the moon traveling in different guises to heaven, earth, and hell.

Hell hath no fury like a termagant scorned.

Shrew, noun

A quarrelsome, scolding, bad-tempered woman. A vixen, a termagant, a bitch.

Apparently, shrew started off life referring to a scolding or wicked man but (presumably) due to lack of use, it had to be switched to refer to a woman. It also used to refer to a thing of evil nature and was an epithet for the devil.

Of course, a shrew is also the small, insect eating rodent that resembles a mouse but with a pointed nose. Superstition had it that the shrew had magical, malignant powers. Hence, the term made its transition to refer to humans.

The most famous shrew of all was Shakespeare's Katharina in Taming of the Shrew or (for you musical theater lovers) Kate in Cole Porter's Kiss Me Kate.

While shrewd in a business sense, her shrewish nature ultimately led to her downfall.

Harridan, noun

A scolding, vicious old woman.

This is said to come from the French word haridelle, which means an old worn out horse, a jade. Johnson's dictionary of 1755 defines 'harridan' as "a decayed strumpet."

When Harriet the harridan married Kermit the curmudgeon, their evil natures seemed to cancel each other.

Harpy, noun

A rapacious woman. A cruel, greedy, predatory person.

I have rarely, if ever, seen this word refer to any sex but female. That is most likely because the Harpy of Greek mythology had the head and breasts of a woman and the wings and claws of a bird. Harpies would steal food from their victims and leave behind a foul stench. Harpy comes from the Greek word Harpyia. The "ha" comes from "harpazein" meaning to snatch.

Vituperations by viragos, tantrums by termagants, shrieks from shrews, or harangues by harridans, have little effect on Harold after enduring the harpy's humiliations.

Disclaimer: The author, his peers, friends, and colleagues in no way take responsibility for crossed-eyed glances, slapped faces, rejected offers, or any draconian consequences as a result of using The Toad's Words.

Revised: September 06, 2000

Copyright by Michael L. VanBlaricum, 04 September 2000.

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