What, I wonder, would Ambrose Bierce (prize cynic and creator of the infamous ‘The Devil’s Dictionary’) have made of this word? Given that he appears to have been a bit of a misogynistic old scrote, I imagine his definition would be broadly similar to that penned alongside the word ‘weaknesses’:

WEAKNESSES, Certain primal powers of Tyrant Woman wherewith she holds dominion over the male of her species, binding him to the service of her will and paralyzing his rebellious energies.

Yes, right – thank you, Ambrose: Bloody glad I didn’t marry you!

The word ‘frail‘ came originally from the Latin ‘fragilis’ – and, in that early sense, meant ‘easily broken’. By the mid 14th century, however, its meaning had moved from the physical to the spiritual/moral realm (never a good sign for mankind, I find!) – and had come to mean ‘morally weak’. By 1908, certainly in the US, ‘frail’ had become, in part, a noun and meant ‘woman‘ – which, if you think about it, says it all really.

Depressing, I find it – I mean this line of thinking which goes through the idea of ‘frail’ relating to sin and moral turpitude and womankind.  As if the stigma given to half the population by a then-little-known Patriarchal sect – whose leaders were terrified of all things pagan, and most scared of all of the Divine Feminine in all her forms – in some way defined a hard-and-fast truth about females.

Blamed for Original Sin. Punished by a swift booting-out of Eden, and several lifetimes of womb-related angst. Said to have brought the Furies into the world courtesy of Pandora. Seen as lesser-beings – and, for ridiculous amounts of our world history time, banned from the upper echelons of the major religious hierarchy because of the frail motif extending to some kind of spurious link between the womb and its workings and hysteria, uncleanliness (moral, mainly) and feeble-mindedness.


And yet – in amongst all this gratuitous (and, to some sadistic sods, highly enjoyable) lobbing of ‘Frailty, your name is Woman‘ grenades, the so-called weaker sex endures the monthly haemorrhaging, the pangs (PANGS, forsooth? More like agonies akin to being disembowelled by rampant bear!) of labour – and the assumption, by too many males, that being nubile is an open invitation and that a woman’s reputation for frailty (of mind, body and morals) means that sexual force, even outright violence, is justified.

I know men who pass out when they have blood taken. No woman with this problem would survive past the first rusty drips of the Menarche! I know members of the supposedly less frail sex who scream blue murder when they are afflicted by the relatively small pain of a self-inflicted slice to the finger (due to an ill-advised bout of showing off with the Number 5 Sabatier knife). What the hell would a fully-contracting, labouring womb do to them, I ask?!

‘Frail’, if the association with Eve and her tribe down the ages is removed, is, actually, a rather nice little word to use about someone who is physically delicate, either through illness or some kind of pre-existing, often genetic, condition.

But I object most heartily to it being twinned with the strong, vibrant town of Feisty Womanhood!


4 thoughts on “Frail

  1. Fascinating. I had never heard of “frail” to be associated with moral weakness or femininity until this post.

    I almost never use the word “frail”, but exclusively use it to describe a physical shortcoming due to acute or chronic illnesses as you described in the penultimate paragraph. Men can certainly be frail in this sense.

    It’s amazing (and disturbing) how religion and politics can make certain descriptive words into dehumanizing remarks…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I quite agree with your final comment. It is one of the more worrying aspects of life in the age of mass communication. Language is magic, rich, profound – a gift which, sad to say, we humans despoil all too readily. xxx


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