Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Spinster



I did a double take when I saw this death notice in The Telegram today. I can't recall ever seeing the word in an obituary before. {Click on image to see more clearly.}

Isn't this redolent of Jane Austen,lavender, lace handkershiefs, knickers put on the clothesline hidden in pillowcases, gloves, hats and sensible shoes, doilies and afternoon tea?

Pocket Oxford has this to say about it:



Whereas Wiki goes several steps further:

Spinster
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

"Remember no thought to a girl is so dread / As the terrible one—I may die an Old Maid.

"Legally, a spinster (or old maid) is a woman or girl of marriageable age who has been unwilling or unable to marry, therefore has no children. Socially, the term is usually applied only to women who are regarded as beyond the customary age for marriage, and is generally considered an insulting term, more degrading than the term "bachelor" for males. While men can continue to have children into their 70s or 80s, women generally become less and less able to bear children as they get older. So the term "old maid" is only applied to women who are past a child bearing age but have never married."


What struck me rather forceably was that this woman's life was summed up by this still derogatory term. She was a teacher and surely her influence could have been expanded upon rather than filing her under her marital status. I sure hope she had some fun on the way!

What an anachronism for 2008!

22 comments:

  1. Wow! I have always been fascinated by the word/concept of spinster. I find it amazing that the term is in use. The Telegram -- where is it published? The term is especially dated since women who simply never got married (either to a male or female companion) may be viewed as "spinsters."

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  2. I hardly ever see the word now, or the word bachelor for that matter, they're both very old-fashioned terms. But of course as fast as one derogatory sexist term disappears, others equally derogatory take their place (slut, slag, old biddy etc etc). The price of dignity is eternal vigilance!

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  3. It makes you think, what will my obituary say. Will my sexuality be raised, if so will it be in the form of a derogatory term.

    Like Homosexual, which personally find mildly offensive, because it is too clinical. Also what is the term form a gay man involved in a civil partnership, as I intend to be in my later. Will this term, if invented, be derogatory. Or will I simply be the Husband or Spouse of Zach Prince.

    I used the name Zach, because I like it and the name Prince, because he should be my prince charming.

    It is wrong and upset that the people who wrote this woman's obituary, have chosen to define her by her marital status. I am sure lived a very full life and touched many people's hearts, where do they say about that.

    I am quite sure my obituary would read:

    DJ Mikey, renowned shirt-lifter doctor has passed away.

    That's just offensive and disrespectful, in the same way the term "Spinster" is, I thought we had moved beyond this. But I guess everywhere is still a little backwards, let's progress people.

    I personally have no problem with the term "Shirt-Lifter", but if it appears in my obituary I am coming back to haunt who every wrote it.

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  4. I don't remember seeing the term used anywhere in recent years.

    I suppose its proper (non-dereogatory) use might be in legal documents where the fact that a woman doesn't have husband as next-of-kin is relevant (say in a Will).

    If mention of marital status is relvant at all "single" is much kinder sounding & applies to both sexes.

    Maybe for obituaries The Telegram has a template or set format ready prepared for advertisers, and haven't changed the wording since 1890! ;-)

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  6. That should be,

    I am quite sure my obituary wouldn't read:

    I just found myself getting annoyed whilst typing.

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  7. wow. i wonder whose choice of words that was?

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  8. Rhea:
    The Telegram is the newspaper of Newfoundland, published in St. John's.
    ---------------------------------
    It crossed my mind Nick, after I blogged, that she may have used the term herself - pre mortem.
    ---------------------------------
    DJM:
    Maybe I'm missing something but I don't quite see the connect between spinster and shirt-lifter? I'd say the lady never lifted a shirt in her life!
    ---------------------------------
    T:
    It was the family who prepared the obit, nothing to do with the editors of The Tely. And I read all their interesting obits every day (I know, I know I'm that kind of morbid weirdo!) and never say the term used before. As I said to Nick, it maybe what she called herself in life.
    -----------------------------------
    Laurie:
    The family's!
    -----------------------------------
    XO
    WWW

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  9. The point I am making is, it is wrong to define people in such narrow terms. I used myself as the example, because it is possible (possible, but wrong) to define me in the same narrow perspective, used this poor woman's obituary.

    I.E. using just one aspect of a life: marital status, sexuality, whatever. It is possible to define everyone in this matter. It is just easier with some people, like Leah W. Taylor or Myself.

    There was more to her than being a spinster, just as there is more to me than being gay. Although I can't seem to shut up about it at the minute, it's just because of the Iris Robinson political thing over here. I'm not usually this vocal about my sexuality.

    Anyway, shirt-lifter is a slang term for gay men. But, just because this lady was unmarried, doesn't mean she never lifted a shirt or 2. You don't have to be married to enjoy sex. I think you are letting the Telegram's choice of words colour your impression of this woman. She may or may not have been sexually active.

    We don't really know anything about her, there could be all sorts of juicy history there, or non at all. We really don't know.

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  10. since we were talking about narrow definitions and derogatory terminology. Shirt-lifter was the most derogatory term I could think of in connection to myself, at the time of my original post.

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  11. I just love Newfoundland for all these little quirky things. I've only just found out that you have a half hour involved in the time zone. That's mad ;-)

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  12. I would want to be written up as, Irene S**d*rs, single human being, surrounded by many fellow human beings.

    That's as close a definition as I would want to give to myself and the people around me.

    I think I will write my own obituary before I go, it may be a better idea. That way I could throw in some humor and make it as honest as i could get it.

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  13. I had the registrar at our wedding explain to me why they no longer (apparantly it has only recently changed) used the words "spinster" and "bachelor" to describe the unmarried couple... (for pretty much the same reasons that have been described above - the bachelors didn't mind, but the spinsters got very offended!)

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  14. Conor:
    Someone tried to explain it to me once but I couldn't follow it! CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) when it announced upcoming programmes always says "Half an hour later in Newfoundland". Kinda suits the whole ambience of the place!
    XO
    WWW

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  15. Irene:
    Not a half bad idea, though you'd have to trust that
    (a) the person who promised to post it would
    (b) that (s)he didn't feel differently!
    XO
    WWW

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  16. Jo:
    It has been changed here too, that's why it shocked me to see it placed so deliberately by a family in an obit!
    XO
    WWW

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  17. As more and more people choose to remain single, perhaps it is time a more respectful term was introduced.

    Presumable spinsters 'spun' in a way that single women beyond marriagiable age now no longer do.

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  18. I would suggest, Hull, that no term be used, whose business is it anyway?
    They don't describe men by the use of bachelor (which now has the tee-hee connotation of being a cover for 'gay' as in 'life long bachelor')
    To me spinster is demeaning as if the person fell far short of the true purpose of life: the successful capture of a husband to make her mark. Anything else like being a doctor or a teacher was just killing time.
    XO
    WWW

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  19. I know I shouldn't laugh, but I can't resist it.

    Wot!!??? No 'of this parish'!?

    ;^)

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  20. Richard:
    And all that implies, oh good one, you had me laughing too!!
    XO
    WWW

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  21. Sounds like she had a thrill-a-minute life, poor cow.

    And now she's going to be 'waked'?

    For some more spinsterdom no doubt.

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  22. Laura:
    What a description of anyone's life. the thought crossed my mind it might have been revenge motivated. they all could have disliked her.
    Who knows?
    XO
    WWW

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