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Picture of TrossL
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I recently married a man who uses the word "distaff" when refering to women or women's things. I always thought that it was the word for what you used to spin wool into thread after you carded it. After looking it up in various dictionaries, I find we are both right, however it begs this question; If "distaff" is "of women" what is the opposite? What word would mean manly things? OneLook.com has no opposites listed for distaff.
 
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I have also come across both definitions. The reference to spinning wool isn't dated but the reference to women in a more general sense is far more interesting. It is noted that the word can be used to refer to women's work in general and I assume that this must mean work that is domestic in nature. However, it is also noted that it has since come to refer to the female sex and female authority in particular. This doesn't help in finding a male version of the word but I strongly suspect that the answer will be found in the field of family history as the word 'distaff' certainly means the female branch of a family and a female heir. This definition dates from 1494 and as this field is dominated by the male sex I assume that there must be a masculine version of the word. Sadly this isn't really my field but I'll keep looking.
 
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Just a side note on the "womens' things" topic:

When Melville Dewey set up the Dewey Decimal system of organizing all the world's knowledge numerically as a way to organize a library, he lumped all the "women's arts" together in the 600s. It always amused me to find "typing" right next to "child-rearing".

I told you it was off topic . . . but related!


*******
"Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.
~Dalai Lama
 
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Not really off-topic on a words-related board, but maybe in this thread. Encyclopedic outlines of knowledge, library catalogging systems, and other taxonomic systems (the new buzzward for these in IT is ontologies), etc., are very interesting. The Library of Congress system also has its problems, mainly in how to categorize a book that is in some ill-defined or interdisciplinary field. In a way, language is a way that we categorize reality. Ontologies are sort of meta-categorization systems, or even more jargonistically metadata ...


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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zmjezhd says, "... even more jargonistically ..."
May I break from the topic long enough to welcome you in classic Wordcraft fashion?
    Welcome to Wordcraft, Zee-
    em-jay-e-zee-aitch-dee.
    Such erudition! Such
    Knowledge! My Lord!

    Or -- to express it more
    Unjargonistically --
    "Greatly delighted to
    Have you aboard!"
 
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quote:
Originally posted by TrossL: If "distaff" is "of women" what is the opposite? What word would mean manly things? OneLook.com has no opposites listed for distaff.
Great question. Compact OED says this:
distaff: ... 2 before another noun denoting the female side or members of a family. Compare with SPEAR (in sense 3).
spear: ... 3 before another noun denoting the male side or members of a family. Compare with DISTAFF.

More importantly: you got married??!! Congratulations! Smile Big Grin Cool Smile Big Grin Cool
 
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You mean the opposite of "distaff" isn't "datstaff"?
 
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quote:
"Greatly delighted to
Have you aboard!"


Gee whiz. Thanks.


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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Hey, Hab, maybe that is the antonym for "distaff" that TrossL was looking for! Wink
quote:
I recently married a man

Congratulations, TrossL...and glad to see you again! It has been awhile!

Very interesting word, TrossL. Yes, Doad, because of the women's occupation meaning for "distaff", the OED online links its meaning, symbolically, to that of the female sex or female authority. It says that it is the female branch of the family, the 'spindle-side' as opposed to the 'spear-side.'

Nice DD, Hic, as always! And welcome again zmj! Cool
 
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Thanks for the congrats all... Back to topic... When I look up "spear" though, I don't find the meaning of "male side of the family" or what have you. And the search goes on...
 
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Yes, in Chicago if you said Distaff, you would get the response "What staff". I'm serious, even if the person knew the word, they'd make a joke out of it, or at least the distaff side of my family.

I've always heard distaff said in a similar way to maternal, "My grandfather, on the distaff side", vs. "My maternal grandfather". The latter seems preferable, however, as my other grandfather died before I was born, he is seldom in my thoughts, and I typically will just say "grandmother, my mom's mother", although the next time it comes up I will use distaff.
 
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quote:
Originally posted by Caterwauller:
he lumped all the "women's arts" together in the 600s.
That is interesting; I had wondered before about the logic behind some of the classifications in the 600s!


Build a man a fire and he's warm for a day. Set a man on fire and he's warm for the rest of his life.
 
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A lot of forestry books are in the 600 classification. So forestry is one of the "women's arts?"

Tinman
 
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The 600s are not solely the domain of womanly arts. All the Car books are in the 600s as are the "how to care for animal" books and books on health issues like AIDS and such.
 
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After looking it up, it appears that the 600s are for the general heading 'Technology (applied sciences)'. That is further subdivided by:
610 Medical sciences (Medicine, Psychiatry)
620 Engineering
630 Agriculture
640 Home economics & family living
650 Management
660 Chemical engineering
670 Manufacturing
680 Manufacture for specific use
690 Buildings

It would therefore appear that the 640s are the 'women's arts' classification.


Build a man a fire and he's warm for a day. Set a man on fire and he's warm for the rest of his life.
 
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Oh, I mispoke. I didn't mean that all of the 600s are Womanly Arts . . . it was just the one area. It's the classification for the applied sciences. At least in current editions of the cataloging guidelines they don't call it "womanly arts" . . . but I do believe they used to. Anyway - it's still odd that it's all bunched in there.


*******
"Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.
~Dalai Lama
 
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I've found a mock classical picture of Fate with a distaff by John William Waterhouse. I like it Smile.
 
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