Tomboy

Although the rise of feminism and the advent of queer theory make tomboyism seem like a relatively contemporary phenomenon, the concept originated in the sixteenth century. Interestingly, the term “tomboy” initially referred to rowdy gentlemen courtiers rather than boisterous young women. The first listing in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), from 1533, defines “tomboy” as a “rude, boisterous or forward boy.” Several decades later, in the 1570s, the term shifted from characterizing a spirited young man to a like-minded young woman. In so doing, it also acquired newfound sexual associations and age coordinates. “Tomboy” lost the innocently playful connotations it had possessed when it referred to an actual boy; it now began to signify a “bold and immodest woman.” Finally, in the late 1590s and early 1600s, the term underwent a third transformation, morphing into its current usage: “a girl who behaves like a spirited or boisterous boy; …

This essay may be found on page 220 of the printed volume.

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