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Mother Tongue

Hardcover / ISBN-13: 9780349015309

Price: £16.99

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

Fascinating, intriguing, witty, a gem of a book‘ KATE MOSSE


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

Spinster. Cougar. Carer. Matron. Wife.

So many of the words we use to articulate the experiences women share feel awkward or alien. Medical terms are accurate but antiseptic. Slang often perpetuates stereotypes. Where are the plain, honest words for women’s daily lives?

From the dawn of Old English to the present day, Dr. Jenni Nuttall guides readers through the evolution of the words we have used to describe bodies, menstruation, sexuality, the consequences of male violence, childbirth, paid and unpaid work, and gender.

Along the way, she argues that, paradoxically, as women have made slow progress towards equality, we’ve lost some of the most expressive and eloquent bits of our vocabulary.

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.

Full of interesting observations . . . Entertaining‘ PHILIP HENSHER, SPECTATOR

One of the wittiest and most insightful books of the year . . . A must-have for any lover of language, history or womenBUZZ MAGAZINE

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


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
A great book on the history of women's words in the English language
Adam Sharp, New European
[Jenni Nuttall] minutely details the shifts of language and meaning over the centuries through the lens of women's experiences
A fascinating look at how we talk about women
Washington Post
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
Fascinating, intriguing, witty, a gem of a book
Kate Mosse
Even longtime word enthusiasts will find plenty of new trivia
New Yorker
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
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
Hannah Betts, Daily Telegraph
Jenni Nuttall's Mother Tongue will easily be one of the wittiest and most insightful books of the year
Buzz Magazine
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
A fresh, informative perspective on women's lives through the centuries