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Mother Tongue

ebook / ISBN-13: 9780349015286

Price: £10.99

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Spinster. Cougar. Carer. Matron. Wife.

A rich, provocative and entertaining history of women’s words – of the language we have, and haven’t, had to share our lives.

‘A gem of a book’ KATE MOSSE

‘A fascinating look at how we talk about women’ WASHINGTON POST


From the dawn of Old English to the present day, Dr Jenni Nuttall guides readers through the evolution of words we have used to describe women and the experiences they might share including menstruation, sexuality, the consequences of male violence, childbirth, paid and unpaid work. Along the way, she argues that as women have made slow progress towards equality, we’ve lost some of the most eloquent parts of our vocabulary for our lives.

Inspired by Nuttall’s deep knowledge of the English language as well as conversations with her teenage daughter, this is a book for anyone who loves language, and for feminists who want to look to the past in order to move forward.

‘This superb book teems with historical marvels and their 21st century resonances’ REBECCA WRAGG SYKES, author of Kindred

‘A great book on the history of women’s words in the English language’ NEW EUROPEAN

‘Even longtime word enthusiasts will find plenty of new trivia’ NEW YORKER

‘A must-have for any lover of language, history or women’ BUZZ MAGAZINE

‘Entertaining’ SPECTATOR

‘Edifying and enlivening’ BOSTON GLOBE

‘There is a nugget of joy and wisdom on every single page’ VICTORIA WHITWORTH, historian and author of Daughter of the Wolf


While I was writing this piece, I learned that Jenni Nuttall had died after a short illness. I had never met her, but I was bereft. I had shared many snippets of the book with friends ... Nuttall had given me the words I lacked. Her death is a great loss
London Review of Books
What a revelatory delight of a book. It is richly scholarly, wry and funny, healthily grounded in women's bodily experiences - they don't change but attitudes towards them do, and we are clearly very mistaken if we think we are getting it right and previous generations were unenlightened. There is a nugget of joy and wisdom on every single page
Victoria Whitworth
A fascinating look at how we talk about women
Washington Post
Edifying and enlivening, Mother Tongue excavates the history of various words, from those relating to menstruation to words used to describe violence against women
Boston Globe
Even longtime word enthusiasts will find plenty of new trivia
New Yorker
Hannah Betts, Daily Telegraph
A fresh, informative perspective on women's lives through the centuries
[Jenni Nuttall] minutely details the shifts of language and meaning over the centuries through the lens of women's experiences
Jenni Nuttall's Mother Tongue will easily be one of the wittiest and most insightful books of the year
Buzz Magazine
Full of interesting observations ... Entertaining
Philip Hensher, Spectator
Mother Tongue is scholarly and authoritative, but joyful, never dry, leavened with vivid etymological tidbits and Nuttall's wry asides
A great book on the history of women's words in the English language
Adam Sharp, New European
An eye-opening survey of the etymology of words used to identify women's body parts, the kind of work they performed, and the violence they suffered from men in Anglo-Saxon English from the 400s to the 1800s (with brief forays into more recent times). . . . This is required reading for logophiles, feminists, and history buffs
Publishers Weekly (starred review)
From the womb-wicket to the child-mighty, and roaring maidens to cunning crones, MOTHER TONGUE encompasses a millennium of enthralling English parlance. Incisively scholarly, affectionately humorous (and sometimes quietly furious), Nuttall sifts the archives of centuries and listens to modern echoes, as lost voices emerge, showing how women have long spoken, and been spoken of. Vivid, philosophical, absorbing and urgent, this superb book teems with historical marvels and their 21st century resonances
Rebecca Wragg Sykes, author of KINDRED
Fascinating, intriguing, witty, a gem of a book
Kate Mosse