Words. We use them everyday to communicate our deepest thoughts, our feelings, our actions. The Oxford English Dictionary contains one hundred seventy one thousand, four hundred seventy six words that are still in use today. However, there are an additional forty seven thousand, one hundred fifty six words that the dictionary considers to be “obsolete.” Also known as archaic words, these words have proved not to have been able to withstand the tests of time and have hence faded into a sort of linguistic oblivion. Some of these words, like “bodkin” or “grimalkin”, which translate to dagger and cat, respectively, are clearly words that you would not hear come out of the typical millennial’s mouth. Others though, such as “corrupt” and “dame”, may seem a bit more familiar, yet they too are considered to be obsolete. Out of all of these words, one in particular stuck out to me, and proceeded to give me visions of fairy tales and knights in shining armor: “damsel.”
When I hear the word “damsel”, the first thing that comes to mind is that saying, “a damsel in distress.” It might be one of the most common fairy tale tropes, with the female protagonist being in some sort of danger, in need of her prince charming to swoop in and rescue her. Even singer and pop-culture sensation Taylor Swift once sang about it in her song, “Love Story”, in which she describes a Romeo and Juliet inspired forbidden love, incorporating various fairytale themes.The thing about this storyline is that while she might get her happy ending, this “damsel” had to rely on the strength and handsome charm of her one true love in order to achieve it.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines “damsel” as a young unmarried woman. According to that definition, I would technically be a damsel, since at seventeen I consider myself young and the last time I checked I was not married. However, just writing that gives me a sour taste in my mouth, as I cannot think of the word “damsel” without thinking of, “a damsel in distress.” This negative connotation of the word proves just how heavily our vocabulary is influenced by the ways in which words have been used throughout history. “Damsel” may be defined as a single young woman, but it has become associated with the opposite of the very definition of feminism. This begs the question: is it good that this word is now considered obsolete?
Possibly. The truth is we no longer live in a time of fairytale courtship where women have to sit around waiting for Prince Charming to rescue them from the tower. They have finally started to realize that they can rescue themselves. On September 25, 2017, The New York Times reported that the first woman graduated from the Marine Corps’ intense Infantry Officer Course. While they have yet to release the female lieutenant’s name, it is evident that this woman does not need a man to rescue her from any tower, as she is more than capable of doing it herself. Out of the one hundred seventy one thousand, one hundred fifty six words that make up The Oxford English Dictionary, I would like to suggest a few new words to describe many of the young unmarried women in America. They are not damsels, they are strong, they are ambitious, they are determined, and they are far more capable of breaking a glass ceiling than any Prince Charming, no matter how shiny his armor may be.