The question What is the wife of a henpecked husband called?, asked five hours ago as I write this, has currently generated a list of highly gendered pejoratives, from shrew to cow, with virtually1 no caution or commentary about why any of them might be the least bit problematic to actually use in today's society. The latest offering, which is from a new user and reads in full

How about these : bitch or cow

already had an up-vote when I saw it. That could be because, while low quality in terms of sourcing and explanation, it's actually an appropriate answer to the literal question. I hope it's that, and not that someone got really excited by the license to call his wife a bitch.

I've flagged the question to at least be protected (now that it's on the HNQ), but I really would more appreciate some of the regulars around here stepping up to include some usage notes about the history and likely offensiveness of their answers.

If you think these answers are completely un-problematic, ask yourself, what's the gender-flipped equivalent of a hen-pecked husband and his emasculating wife? The answer is that there isn't one, because it has never been considered particularly problematic for men to browbeat, bully, and intimidate their female romantic partners (let alone for women to put up with such behavior). Put another way, the defining characteristic of a hen-pecked husband is that he obeys his wife's dictates. Compare that with the traditional wedding vows, which literally required women to promise to obey their husbands as a prerequisite to being a wife.

I'm not asking that the question be closed, or anyone's answer be deleted (except possibly that last one, if it's not improved to the community's minimum standards). I am asking that at least a few of the answerers/commenters include any information at all about the social implications of actually using these terms. That kind of commentary would go a long ways to making that question look more like a Q&A about English usage, and less like the bulletin board in a very stuffy boys' club.


1 One answerer did include a comment disavowing "the history of sexism" of the terms in question, and while I was composing this another user added a cautionary comment to the lead answer. Thanks, @TaliesinMerlin and @Todd Wilcox.

  • 1
    There is a minor subsystem of questions on ELU that I always go 'ugh' to, the "What's a word for a woman that...?" questions, as you hinted at, asked by (well read) kids in a treehouse. They tend not to be very good SWR type questions and they tend to attract a lot of like minded educated puerility. (Full disclosure: I have asked questions that might fit that description).
    – Mitch
    Commented Feb 26, 2019 at 0:34
  • 1
    If a poorly worded answer is given, it should be commented, downvoted, edited, and/or flagged. If the question is bad, it should be commented, downvoted, edited, voted to close, and/or flagged (also voted to delete after closed).
    – Mitch
    Commented Feb 26, 2019 at 0:41
  • 4
    Several years ago, tchrist—moderator and longtime believer in high Q&A standards for this site—posted a Meta question that seems relevant to several of the points you make: Can anything be done about mean-spirited requests for terminology? Subsequently, I believe, tchrist introduced the "pejorative-language" tag to identify questions that could be construed as fishing expeditions for crude or cruel epithets to use on other people. I've added that tag to the cited question.
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented Feb 26, 2019 at 2:27
  • 1
    The thing is, I don't think there's anything objectively wrong with the question. It shows some research (well, research has been edited in), it has an example sentence, and in form it's exactly like all the "what's the reciprocal term for this other term" questions that we get all the time. I have no idea why the person wants the word; maybe they're writing an essay on problematic gender relations. So I didn't vote to close, and won't, and I'm not particularly bothered by the question. Rather, it is the community's response to the question that I find incredibly disheartening.
    – 1006a
    Commented Feb 26, 2019 at 15:42
  • @JJJ Oh, yeah, sure, that's another way of dealing with it I suppose. I think the direction of the OP is to what extent such questions should be tolerated. But your proposed action doesn't address the 'climate' that appears. Blocking such questions accepts the climate and ignores it just for oneself, where the idea is to promote a better climate for all.
    – Mitch
    Commented Feb 26, 2019 at 15:56

1 Answer 1


When a question attracts a long list of answers, that usually means it is subjective – more of a poll or request for suggestions or ideas. If it is not intended to be a request for suggestions or ideas, then as written it is unclear and being mistaken for such a request. In any case, it should be closed to prevent it from continuing to attract suggestion after suggestion. I believe at last count we had 19 answers already posted on this one. See: “Real questions have answers, not items or ideas or opinions”, “Single word requests, crosswords, and the fight against mediocrity”.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .