Just as an intact male dog used for breeding is referred to as a stud, there is an equivalent term to denote a female canine intended for a breeding program. This name is bitch. Though this term is the correct clinical name for a reproductively intact female dog, some people find the word “bitch” to be quite offensive. In today’s culture, the word “bitch” has become synonymous as an insult to women. It is typically used as a swear word to indicate a woman the person feels is cantankerous, moody, or difficult. Is it still appropriate to use the word “bitch” to refer to a female dog today?
Where Did the Name “Bitch” Come From?
Language is always evolving. Because of this, words may start with one very specific origin, yet its use and subsequent definition may change with time.
The earliest recorded instance of the word “bitch” is from the Old English and is dated at approximately 1000 AD. At this time, bitch had an entirely different spelling: bicce or bicge. From its earliest origins, this word was always used to refer to a female dog. It is believed that this word may have been adopted into the Old English vernacular from the Vikings who commonly used the similar sounding word: bikkja.
Even from the earliest of days, it was the norm for many languages to have distinctly different words for males and for females belonging to any given species. Interestingly enough, many of these terms are still commonly utilized today.
When Did the Word “Bitch” Become an Insult?
As long as there have been human beings, people have enjoyed insulting each other. This tradition of sarcasm and injury through words dates back as far as Pompeii, Shakespeare, and even the Holy Bible.
It has long been common practice for people to insult one another by calling each other different animal names. For example, someone referring to another person as a donkey (or worse, a jackass) could be attempting to indicate that the person is stubborn. The person being called a donkey (or a jackass) may find this association highly offensive. So too do women take offence to being called the commonly utilized name for a female dog: a bitch.
Throughout history, women have not always been treated with the respect that they deserved. In many cultures, women had very few rights if any at all. Since this was the cultural norm, it was not uncommon for people to use their words as weapons to wound women. One of the most offensive insults was to label a woman as a “bitch.” When this insult was applied to a woman, it was meant to liken the lady to a female dog at the peak of her fertility period. The implication was that the woman was of a moral quality that was questionable at best. During these times, the word “bitch” was utilized in the same connotation as the term “whore.”
As the times began to change, bitch was still an insult commonly used against women; however, its meaning was no longer sexual in nature. Instead, this word was utilized to indicate a woman was loud, forceful, cantankerous, opinionated, or any other number of qualities the person found offensive.
What is the Difference Between a Bitch and a Dam?
Bitch and dam both refer to reproductively intact female dogs. However, bitch is a more generic term that indicates a female canine that is able to be bred. Just as the word sire is used to denote a male dog that has successfully fathered a litter, the term dam is used for a female that has whelped a litter of puppies.
For female dogs that have been spayed, the term bitch is still applicable. Spayed females are commonly referred to as spayed bitches.
Should the Term Bitch Still Be Used Today?
Though the term bitch is now used in our culture in a derogatory fashion, it does still remain true to its roots as the correct handle for a female dog that is reproductively intact (or a spayed female dog). Its use in a veterinary setting and in the world of professional breeding is clinical in nature.
Though language changes over time, many of the words that lose their original meaning are still useful today. If properly used to denote an intact female dog (or a spayed female dog), there is no reason to avoid the use of this word. However, removing this word from use as a common insult applied to women on the whole would be a step in the right direction.
It should be noted as well that some women have embraced the word bitch as a term of endearment that they apply to themselves and sometimes to their likeminded women friends. Though this may be the case, it is still considered to be best practice for men to avoid the use of this word when referring to a woman at any time…unless the man in question has a death wish.
What do you call a female dog? If the dog has been spayed, she would simply be referred to as a spayed bitch. For reproductively intact girls, the correct term is simply intact bitch or dam if a female dog has recently whelped a litter. For best results, keep this term strictly for use in the dog world. You’ll be glad you did!