Insulting Women (in English) II
Bill Long 12/9/06
One More Modern Insult--Hoochie
The purpose of this essay is to review the other recently-invented insult against women, to provide one or two positive/"superior" terms for women and then to conclude with two or three terms that could be used either neutrally (playfully) or negatively.* Let's begin where we left off: with hoochie.
[*These latter topics will have to await the next essay.]
Hooch as Alcohol
There is a three-word constellation of terms or meanings centering around hoochie. None of the three relates to each other, but I want to introduce each to you. The oldest, hooch, was coined in 1897 to refer to "alcoholic liquor, spirits, esp. of low quality or illegal provenance." In Hayne's Pioneers of Klondyke (1897), this sentence appears: "The manufacture of 'hooch,' which is undertaken by the saloon-keepers themselves, is weirdly horrible." But the OED gives us a cross-reference, which anthropologist Dr. Bill eagerly followed up, which says that "hooch" was derived from a Native Alaskan term "Hoochinoo" (I am NOT making this up!) to describe the brew made by the Hoochinoo people on Admiralty Island. In 1877 the Puget Sound Argus reported: "I have frequently seen soldiers go to the Indian ranch for their morning drink of kootznehoo." Ok, close enough. This is really far afield, but it is nice, in the welter of confusion we face in the world, to clarify at least one mystery. Don't you agree?
Then, in 1952, we have the first attestation of hoochie to mean a shelter or dwelling (esp. one that is insubstantial or temporary). A key to its origin may be found in the 1954 Britannica Year Book, when it says: "In the final stages, the war in Korea yielded a number of new terms, among them the British soldier's name for a dugout--a Hoochie." But this doesn't say whether it was a Korean term that the Brits took over or whether they thunk it up on their own; an earlier attestation in the San Francisco Examiner (1952) suggests that it originated with American GIs, though it doesn't mention the Korean War. But I suppose that quibbling over whether we or the Brits or we invented it is not quite as important as the invention of, hm, let's say the theory of DNA.
Now, unless the rapper Big Daddy Kane was intimately familiar with linguistic conventions of the Korean War, the negative usage of the term, against women, hoochie in the phrase hoochie mama developed independently of all this. It might have been derived from hootchy-kootchy, a term going back to the 1890s to suggest an erotic dance or indecent activity, but it hit the airwaves as hoochie in Kane's famous (right) 1989 song: Pimpin Ain't Easy. I agree with the title of the song; I have found that "pimpin'" takes all the energy you have. Well, Big Daddy sang/said: "Specially if the hoochie's on birth control." In 1993 we have further refinement of the term with this Washington Post quotation: "I'm not willing to do any 'shaky-thing'; no 'hoochie-mama' stuff." Thus, we can conclude that by the early 1990s, hoochie or hoochie mama suggested a woman of sexually promiscuous habits or activities. The NY Times ran a story in Jan. 1994 which discussed various incentives that schools and communities were giving for youth to practice chastity. Among them was the following: "Once a girl has sex, she is likely to be labeled the neighborhood 'hoochie.'"
Ah, so now we see an ever-so-slight morphing of the concept of hoochie out of an African-American culture to the general teen culture. As I have argued elsewhere, this is often the way that culture "flows" in America. But then, as with most things, it becomes more "mainstream," at least in the fact that it gets picked up by the majority (White) culture. This is evident in a the 2002 book on witchcraft: Where to Park Your Broomstick: "Being empowered and free doesn't necessarily translate into being a hoochie. Wiccans know that freedom means responsibility." It is not as if Wiccans are completely mainstream, but, to make my point that they are nearly 105% White, have you ever been to an African-American coven? Nah, at least not in the USA. So, we see how the term "morphed" into our dominant White culture, even though it was only taken up in a rather small offshoot of that culture.
I don't know how popular the term hoochie is now in our culture (I suspect its recognition factor is much lower than feminazi), but in the last two years I have found reference to it as bait by Alaskan salmon fishermen ("four stainless steel lines with six leaders on each line, with herring or flashy plastic lures called hoochies as bait") or women who try to "target" men who are away for the weekend, without wives, to watch an out-of-town football game. The description appears in a summary of a new sitcom called "The Game." Here it is:
"Tasha (Wendy Raquel Robinson) is the mother of a rising-star player, Malik (Hosea Chanchez); she's all attitude and fierceness, and she takes a dim view of white women who marry black men. Melanie (Tia Mowry), by contrast, is an ingenue dating a rookie, Derwin (Pooch Hall); she's wholesome and a good student, a kind of ''Cosby Show'' figure, who on the first episode tries to resist getting drawn into the meddling henhouse of football wives who are threatened by ''away-game hoochies'' who might sleep with their husbands," NY Times, 9/30/06, B13.
So, even though the term has morphed out of the racial context (referring to a promiscuous African-American woman), it seems also to keep its visibility there. The most recent use of the term I could find was from last month. In an article on contemporary fashion, which I regrettably don't cover with as much zeal as I ought, the author was wondering where the pants have gone--on women, that is. They seem to have been replaced by short shirts and footless tights. One woman, a certain Collette LoVullo, owner of CoCo & Delilah in the "East Village," had this piece of advice to give to women.
"It's important to cover your rear. Anything shorter looks a little hoochie mama."
When I was in law I always urged my clients also always to cover their rears. I never, however, told them that they would be mistaken for hoochie mamas, however, if they didn't. Glad that the fashion people have set me straight.
Yikes, look at the space! I am completely out of it, and I only have gotten through the contemporary insults/negative terms. Let's continue our more "serious" story in the next essay.
Copyright © 2004-2008 Wiliam R. Long