The Journey of a Word

by Karen Stollznow, Cambridge University Press (2024)

Bitch: The Journey of a Word is a deep-dive into the surprising history and ever-changing meaning of this powerful word. 

Bitch is a bitch of a word. It used to be a straightforward insult, but today—after so many variations and efforts to reject or reclaim the word-it’s not always entirely clear what it means. Bitch is a chameleon. There are good bitches and bad bitches; sexy bitches and psycho bitches; boss bitches and even perfect bitches. This eye-opening deep-dive takes us on a journey spanning a millennium, from its humble beginnings as a word for a female dog through to its myriad meanings today, proving that sometimes you can teach an old dog new tricks. It traces the colorful history and evolving meaning of this powerful and controversial word, and its relevance within broader issues of feminism, gender, race and sexuality. Despite centuries of censorship and attempts to ban it, bitch has stood the test of time. You may wonder: is the word going away anytime soon? Bitch, please.

“A sparkling and sophisticated examination of one of my favorite vulgarities—and one of the English language’s most fraught. I had been waiting for a detailed, book-length account of this word, whose long life is more colorful and fascinating than I even knew. Karen Stollznow was the perfect person to write it!”

— Amanda Montell, author of Cultish and Wordslut.