Spinster  

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"Just what is the relation between emotive meaning and the dynamic use of words? Let us take an example. Suppose that a man is talking with a group of people which includes Miss Jones, aged 59. He refers to her, without thinking, as an “old maid.” Now even if his purposes are perfectly innocent — even if he is using the words purely descriptively — Miss Jones won’t think so. She will think he is encouraging the others to have contempt for her, and will draw in her skirts, defensively. The man might have done better if instead of saying “old maid” he had said “elderly spinster.” The latter words could have been put to the same descriptive use, and would not so readily have caused suspicions about the dynamic use."--"The Emotive Meaning of Ethical Terms" (1937) by Charles Stevenson

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

A spinster (or old maid) is a woman who has never been married, though it is usually applied only to women who are regarded as beyond the normal age for marriage, which has varied between cultures and eras.

Popular culture

The British Magazine "The Ladies Pocketbook" in 1836 said this about the Origins of Spinsters ... "Our industrious and frugal forefathers made it a maxim, that a young woman should never be married until she had spun herself a set of body, bed, and table linen. From this custom, all unmarried women were called spinsters, a term which they still retain in law."

In both The Taming of the Shrew and Much Ado About Nothing, William Shakespeare referred to a contemporary saying that it was the fate of women who died unmarried to lead apes into hell. By the time of the British Regency, "ape leader" had become a slang term for "old maid". It is often used in that context in Regency romances and other literature set in that period.

Many classic and modern films have depicted stereotypical spinster characters. Bette Davis played the title role in The Old Maid (1939), where she played an unwed mother named Charlotte. She played another spinster named Charlotte in Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964). Katharine Hepburn specialized in playing spinsters in the 1950s such as Rosie in The African Queen (1951), Jane Hudson in Summertime (1955), and Lizzie in The Rainmaker (1956). A common theme in the fiction writings of author/poet Sandra Cisneros is marital disillusionment; she has written the poem "Old Maids" (1994). Paul McCartney composed a hit song "Eleanor Rigby" in 1966 about the loneliness and death of a spinster.

The book Washington Square and The Heiress have an old maid heroine who ultimately chooses to remain a spinster and embraces the freedom of not having to enter marriage.

In Australia, parties are held for young single people to meet and socialize (particularly in the rural areas). These events are known as Bachelor and Spinster Balls or colloquially 'B and S Balls.' Balls in which women ask men to attend are known as Sadie Hawkins dances in the United States. The Bob Dylan song "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll" tells the true story of a murder at a Spinsters' Ball in Baltimore in 1963.

Episode 69 in the fifth season of the HBO series Sex and the City titled "Luck Be an Old Lady" dealt with Charlotte being increasingly fearful that she's become an old maid on her 36th birthday. She gives herself an Atlantic City style makeover and stuns the girls with her new racy, red lipstick look. Miranda gets her a gag gift of playing cards titled "old maid" and the characters discuss why women are labelled "spinsters" and men get the less-denigrating "bachelor" designation, no matter how old they are.

Unpopped popcorn kernels have been dubbed "old maids" in popular slang, since just as unmarried women, spinsters and old maids traditionally who do not have children, they do not "pop."

Patty and Selma Bouvier (sisters of Marge Simpson) live in Spinster City Apartments in The Simpsons.

Bridget Jones often refers to herself as a spinster in the film Bridget Jones' Diary.

Susan Boyle, a talented Britains Got Talent contestant has been referred to as a spinster throughout the competition. When she first arrived on stage both the audience and judges expected to see an untalented person labelled "spinster".

See also





Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Spinster" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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