I saw this photo from the publicity for the new Wonder Woman movie and my involuntary reaction was, ouch. It called to mind John Mitchell's quip about Katie Graham from the Watergate days.


I saw this photo from the publicity for the new "Wonder Woman" movie and my involuntary reaction was, "ouch." It called to mind John Mitchell's quip about Katie Graham from the Watergate days.


I used to enjoy bow-shooting in college, and I know how much a bowstring hurts when you get any part of you between it and where it wants to go. It's no surprise that the ancient folk-etymology of Amazon was "without a breast" (Greek a- "without" + mazos, a variant of mastos "breast") from the story that the female warrior race of Scythia cut or burned off one breast so they could draw bowstrings more efficiently.


The best guess I can find of the actual origin of the word is that it is from an unknown non-Indo-European word, or possibly from an Iranian compound *ha-maz-an- "(one) fighting together" [Watkins].


It has been in English since medieval times, and has been used generally of female warriors; strong, tall, or masculine women; and even of the queen in chess.


The river in South America originally was called by the Spanish Rio Santa Maria de la Mar Dulce. It was rechristened by Francisco de Orellana in 1541 after an encounter with female warriors of the Tapuyas (or, as some say, beardless, long-haired male tribesmen). Others hold that the river name is a corruption of a native word in Tupi or Guarani meaning "wave").


Another old word for "heroic woman, woman of extraordinary stature, strength and courage" is VIRAGO, from a Latin feminization of vir "man." In Old English, Ælfric (c. 1000), following the Vulgate, used it in Genesis ii.23 as the name Adam gave to Eve:


Beo hire nama Uirago, þæt is, fæmne, forðan ðe heo is of hire were genumen.


Which (in Latin) matches the word-play in the Hebrew original (ishshah ... 'iysh). WOMAN ... MAN would serve as well today, but probably Ælfric side-stepped it because MAN then still had a broad reference to both sexes and the usual Old English pairing of wer and wif didn't play like the original.


The longbow formerly was the characteristic English weapon, and the relics of that are scattered through the colloquial phrases of the language: bow-shot as a measure of distance, bow-legged for one with the knees bent outward. Others, now mostly obsolete, were:


* to have the bent of (one's) bow "know one's intentions or inclinations"

* to shoot in (another's) bow "practice an art other than one's own"

* bow-hand "the left hand," hence "on the wrong side, inaccurately"

* to have two strings to (one's) bow "have more than one means to accomplish something"

* draw the long bow "exaggerate, lie."

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