Fishwife
Posted: 10 January 2013 04:48 AM   [ Ignore ]
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This word appears to have very negative connotations from centuries back. “She scolds like a fishwife” is a really nasty accusation to make against a woman. Yet (to give one instance) the Wikipedia entry s.v. “Fishwife” draws a very positive picture of fishwives: stalwart, loyal, brave --- paragons of virtue, making the best of very difficult conditions. And it’s a very convincing picture, backed up by credible testimony.
Has anyone any idea how, or why, the term “fishwife” should have acquired such strongly negative --- and apparently baseless --- associations? I have my own suspicions, but would appreciate hearing the views of colleagues.

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Posted: 10 January 2013 05:33 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Whatever their virtues, and justly or not, outside their own community fishwives were principally known for their loud raucous voices (probably inevitable in anyone who has to stand around all day shouting “Buy my fresh herrings!” louder than the next woman) and the foulness of their language. Billingsgate Market was the principal fish market of London, and in the 18th and 19th centuries, Billingsgate language or just Billingsgate was a synonym for loud crude abusive language. Here’s a definition from the 1811 edition of The Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (originally by Francis Grose):

Billingsgate Language:
Foul language, or abuse. Billingsgate is the market where the fishwomen assemble to purchase fish; and where, in their dealings and disputes, they are somewhat apt to leave decency and good manners a little on the left hand.

In the late 18th century the 6th Earl of Barrymore had four children. His eldest son Richard was such a noted rake he acquired the nickname ‘Hellgate’. The second son Henry had a club foot and the nickname ‘Cripplegate’. The youngest, Augustus, was known as ‘Newgate’ – and their sister Caroline was so celebrated for her foul language she was dubbed ‘Billingsgate’.

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Posted: 10 January 2013 06:54 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Here lies Happydog

apt to leave decency and good manners a little on the left hand.

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Posted: 10 January 2013 09:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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What Syntinen Laulu said, plus basic sexism.

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Posted: 10 January 2013 10:42 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Nowadays the word invariably reminds me of this bit of dialog from Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End.

Barbossa: Masters Pintel and Ragetti! Take this fishwife to the brig! [referring to Elizabeth Swann]
Pintel: Right this way, Mrs. Fish!

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Posted: 10 January 2013 12:01 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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It invariably reminds me of this, from “A New Man,” season four, episode twelve, of Buffy the Vampire Slayer:

GILES: What? Oh, that’s bloody marvelous! After I’ve spent weeks trying to get a single scrap of information on our mysterious demon-collectors, no one bothered to tell me that Buffy is
dating one! Who else knows this?

XANDER No one! No one else knows this. [beat] Anya. That’s it.

[Beat]

WILLOW: And Spike.

GILES: Spike?! knew?

XANDER: Only the basic stuff. Riley’s a commando. Professor Walsh is in charge--

GILES: Professor Walsh? That… fishwife?

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Posted: 10 January 2013 02:15 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Here’s a blog page about some Scottish fishwives.  As sl said, they were women who stood up and were counted - not to be messed with.

The cry of “caller* herrin” through the streets would have alerted customers that fresh fish was for sale.  These strong women were renowned for being rather fearsome and prone to using bad language, however many attended meetings at the Scottish Coast Mission Hall.  There was a Fishwives Choir, and fishwives from Fisherrow Harbour at Musselburgh often played golf against their counterparts from Newhaven further up the coast.

The Statistical Account for Scotland (1834-45) comments on the Musselburgh fishwives “as having an uncommonly robust and masculine aspect” – I bet no one would have dared say that to their faces ...
*caller means fresh

And from an advert for a Moorcroft vase, The Fishwives, depicting Whitby in north east England:

Working long, hard hours in all seasons, hot and cold, wet and dry, the tough Whitby fishwives were first in a line of complex, but relatively local, distribution systems which operated along the coastline of the United Kingdom.

It was an era when a meagre living was scraped together between the small fishing boats at anchor and the quayside.  Fish were often sold using salt-soaked wooden barrels with planks or old doors placed on the top to created a makeshift counter.  Happily, ceramic art leaves no clue on smell, leaving those who are interested to use their imagination.  The fishwives’ wicker baskets would have been heavy to carry.  In contrast, the sailors stand by while a tavern drunk sleeps off his alcoholic excesses.

Ladies, I salute you.

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Posted: 10 January 2013 11:08 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Syntinen Laulu, ElizaD, and fishwives: i cannot do better than respectfully quote one of you: “Ladies, I salute you”.

Had the Earl and his whimsical family lived in this century, and had one of the children been afflicted with enuresis, they might have called him/her “Watergate”

;-)

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Posted: 11 January 2013 01:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Following on from Eliza’s comments, in Portobello, just up the road from Musselburgh there is a street named Fishwives’ Causeway. (One of my favourite street names in the Edinbugh area.)

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Posted: 11 January 2013 01:39 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Dr Fortran, From what we’ve learned here I think you should petition the authorities to have that name changed to Fishwives’ Coarseway!

(On second thoughts, the subtle approach may be much more to the liking of the Scots, even though it may not entertain foreign tourists!)

[ Edited: 11 January 2013 02:40 AM by Skibberoo ]
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Posted: 11 January 2013 05:15 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Not your best, skibberoo.

Re Fishwives Causeway:

The Roman paved way yet remaining in the vicinity, called the Fishwives Causeway

from Interesting Roman Antiquities Recently Discovered in Fife by the Rev. Andrew Small, 1823.

[ Edited: 11 January 2013 05:40 AM by ElizaD ]
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Posted: 11 January 2013 05:38 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Another one bites the Mara dust!

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Posted: 11 January 2013 05:55 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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Re Fishwives Causeway:

Around 1700 the farmers were paid to remove the street dung from Edinburgh. The roads of the time were very bad and often impassable in winter. Goods were carried on horseback in sacks, hurdles or creels, though carts were used on the east side of Edinburgh before 1750 and on the west side after that date. The salt pans on the coast give employment for 40 carriers, all women, who travel to Edinburgh and the surrounding district.
There is an ancient causeway to the north-east which forms the boundary of the parish there. Some think that it is one of those roads, several of which lead to Holyrood Palace, that Mary Queen of Scots was keen to encourage to help develop Scotland. Mary is known to have granted privileges to corporations and individuals if they made and maintained certain roads and paths. The road in question is the “Fishwives’ causeway” which was part of the post-road to London. Linlithgow and Peebles are said to have had a responsibility for maintaining this causeway.


http://www.oldroadsofscotland.com/stataccedinburgh.htm

It’s also said to have been used by the Romans and in the 17th century to have been a path through cattle-grazing land frequented by robbers and smugglers.

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