Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Is Uppity offensive?

Okay, one of my treasured readers is getting totally bent out of shape by my use of the term 'Uppity' to describe some mighty fine (with the likely exception of the triplets, Palin, Bachmann and Angle) women. 

The meaning of uppity in my OED, American Edition, is:

uppity |ˈəpətē|
adjective informal
self-important; arrogant : an uppity sister-in-law.
ORIGIN late 19th cent.: a fanciful formation from up .

The Oxford Writer's Thesaurus gives alternates:
arrogant, snobbish, hoity-toity, snooty, pretentious, bumptious, full of oneself, puffed up, conceited, pompous, self-assertive, overbearing, cocky, cocksure, impertinent, haughty, self-important, superior, presumptuous, overweening, uppish, high and mighty; too big for one's britches/boots.

And from we have:

up·pi·ty [uhp-i-tee] 
–adjective Informal .
1. affecting an attitude of inflated self-esteem; haughty; snobbish.
2. rebelliously self-assertive; not inclined to be tractable or deferential.

Readers of the blog will remember that I took the title from Vicki Leon's books of the same name.

But readers, you tell me... Participate in the poll below. What do you think is conveyed? Feel free to comment after you vote, too.

© Bright Nepenthe, 2010


  1. It's not really fair, this poll, because I needed to vote for 3 out of the 4.

  2. I really think you ought to do a post on Hatshepsut

  3. I don''t think I can edit, but I meant to recommend Antonia Fraser's "The Warrior Queens: The Legends and the Lives of the Women Who Have Led Their Nations in War"

  4. As the religious are fond of saying, you have to look at the context. Context is, hackneyed aphorism that uppity women rarely make history, Vicky Leon's book, your framing it off her books. If the reader is ignorant of all that, she might take meaning #1, but it says more about the reader than the term.

  5. I wish I was more rebelliously self-assertive. Its probably a really good goal to be that way in this world, if you're a woman, actually. Unless your living in those parts of the world where they'd throw rocks at you for being uppity, that is. Then, maybe not so good.

    I really love these posts. I find them inspiring. And interesting.

  6. I thought we were reclaiming "uppity" as a positive word.

  7. Women who are powerful, who have vision, who seek to change the world around them, who challenge accepted cultural/social/economic/scientific/artistic views, who refuse to follow blindly the dictates of society/family, are uppity. Some around me find my uppitiness to be very unbecoming for a woman, much less a lady. Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn!

  8. Okay, let me tell you what to do. I'm a man, and we understand these things. ...Why are you all looking at me like that?

    On a less tongue-in-cheek note, I think "uppity" is fine. Sure, you could substitute "strong" or "empowered" or "amazing", but part of what makes these cases so impressive is the fact that by the standards of their times (and even a fair chunk of the modern world), they were considered uppity. They were very much going against what society expected of them.

  9. I voted for sarcastic and ironic. :) I think that it's a great use of the word. I wish I was more like these "uppity" women...but I am kind of a chicken. You go girl!!!

  10. Sarcastic and ironic got the vote from me.

    And what Jen said regarding doing a post on Hatshepsut.

  11. Hi,

    This issue continues to be very important to me because I think language matters.

    The term "Uppity" should not be used when describing successful and heroic women, because by the dictionary definition it is not flattering. (See above.) In addition there is the historical context to consider: this word connotes Southern style bigotry and has been used as an adjective in front of the N word. Perhaps no one is old enough to remember this common useage in the 50's and 60's, but it is important to know that it was used by a Southern senator as recently as 2008 to describe the Obamas.

    But, let's say, for argument's sake, that the meaning of the word has suddenly been changed by the publication of a book and sheer force of will on the part of our beloved leader Marzie, and is somehow no longer racist or demeaning. I still strongly object to the concept that a woman has to step outside of her "place" in order to be successful. Uppity, used in the very best sense, still means she has to be arrogant in order to succeed. Do we really want to take that line? I prefer to think that women can be strong and successful and heroic because they can, because they are human, and because they deserve to be treated and honored like all humans, without having to take on this lowly adjective.

    Lastly, this is not a serious poll. It is sarcastic. If sarcasm really is the main thrust, then don't you think one short blog would have done it? After more than 20 times, a "joke" gets old, don't you think?