wench

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Heba

Senior Member
Egypt, Arabic
Hi everyone :)

I am reading an English translation of an Arabic poem, and - in his attempt to depart from the original setting as they state in the preface to their translation- the translators substitute the names of the ladies that the poet was in love with- and about whom he reminisces- with the term ''wenches''.
As far as I know, the term does not have a good connotation in modern English and is only used as a dialect and someimes as an insult(the translation was produced in 1944, and the language used is modern not archaic).
As English is not my mother-tongue, I am not sure though if my information about the connotation. Is my info about its connotation correct or does the term have a good connotation?
 
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  • suzi br

    Senior Member
    English / England
    Hard to say how it is being used at the moment.
    As you say it has had a lot of currency in dialects, which is probably where my sense of it comes from. To me it is fairly neutral, like lass.
     

    Parla

    Member Emeritus
    English - US
    I've never encountered the word in modern literature except if it's being used to give a feeling of old-time fiction. It's not neutral to my ears. In these old stories and in movies taking place long ago, it's just about always used by men in reference to attractive young female servants, barmaids, or prostitutes. Such women are something less than respectable, at least in the eyes of those who use the word. I'd be very surprised to see a serious poem in which the writer refers to the woman he loves as a "wench".
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    Both Random House and Collins (at WRF dictionary) have the "prostitute" meaning as only one of three possible.


    (Random House)wench /wɛntʃ/
    n. [countable]
    •a girl or young woman.
    •a female servant.
    •a sexually loose woman
     

    Egmont

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    I have the same associations with this word as Parla. I'm surprised that the word was used neutrally as recently as 1944. (I was alive then, though I wasn't yet able to read.)

    I wouldn't refer to my earlier girlfriends as wenches (well, maybe one of them ...)

    I wouldn't call my wife a wench unless I was trying to be funny and was completely certain that my choice of words would be taken as an attempt at humor.

    I would never call my department chair a wench. And I would never, ever, call the president of the college a wench. (They are both female.)
     

    PaulQ

    Banned
    UK
    English - England
    I see a wench as a young woman [often] from the lower classes, who is of little or no concern to the speaker - it has a dismissive nuance.

    •a girl or young woman. ->A wench stole my wallet = Some woman or other stole my wallet.

    •a female servant. -> The wench will show you to your room = A young woman of no importance will show you to your room.

    •a sexually loose woman -> Get drunk, grab yourself one of these wenches and have a good time. = Get drunk, choose one of the women (any will do, they are all the same) and have a good time.

    For me the word is old-fashioned and Google Ngram shows a declining use since 1800. The slight upturn at the end is probably due to historical fiction.

    In the case of the poem, the date of the translation is not too important, the date of the original poem is: if the Arabic was written over 200 years ago, wench would be justified.

    I would not use it in modern English.
     

    Keith Bradford

    Senior Member
    English (Midlands UK)
    My father (born West Midlands, 1908) regularly used "wench" to mean simply a girl or young woman, without any 'servant' or sexual or derogatory connotation. In my usual vocabulary its scope has narrowed, and it would usually collocate with 'country' or 'serving-'. In this respect it's identical to "maid".
     

    LesStrater

    Senior Member
    English - American
    •a female servant. -> The wench will show you to your room = A young woman of no importance will show you to your room.
    I know a woman who works as a waitress at Medieval Times, which is a dinner/theater playhouse. Her actual job title is "wench".
    Furthermore, every year when she files her taxes she enters "wench" on her IRS-1040 form under "occupation".
     

    221BBaker

    Senior Member
    Spanish (Canarian) & Catalan
    I see a wench as a young woman [often] from the lower classes, who is of little or no concern to the speaker - it has a dismissive nuance.

    •a girl or young woman. ->A wench stole my wallet = Some woman or other stole my wallet.

    •a female servant. -> The wench will show you to your room = A young woman of no importance will show you to your room.

    •a sexually loose woman -> Get drunk, grab yourself one of these wenches and have a good time. = Get drunk, choose one of the women (any will do, they are all the same) and have a good time.

    For me the word is old-fashioned and Google Ngram shows a declining use since 1800. The slight upturn at the end is probably due to historical fiction.

    In the case of the poem, the date of the translation is not too important, the date of the original poem is: if the Arabic was written over 200 years ago, wench would be justified.

    I would not use it in modern English.
    I took the liberty to check what the OED says about it, and, apparently, most of the possibilities suggested here are more or less what it says. But the use as a girl, a maid, a young woman, even a female child is nowadays dialectal.
    - A girl of rustic or working class would be the most common present-day use.
    - Again as a dialectal form, a familiar or endearing form of address; used chiefly to address a daughter, a wife or sweetheart, with no social class connotations.
    - No references to prostitution; only a mistress or a wanton woman is referenced as an archaism. The use as a female servant is apparently extinct.
    If anyone remembers the TV series Morse, there was an episode in which Morse investigated a murder that had taken place in the 1800s Oxford by studying archived records and history books. Title: ‘The Wench is Dead’. The choice of ‘wench’ for that story is consistent with the idea of a Victorian working lass the film tried to portray.
     

    suzi br

    Senior Member
    English / England
    It is in the nature of language change that almost any word denoting a woman picks up negative connotations over time.
    Wench came to me in the West Midlands as it did to Keith as a neutral word for a youngish woman. I still hear it used and occasionally use it myself, but agree with others that there are many contexts in which I would choose NOT to use it!

    In the context of the OP it is probably conveying a negative element. A better collective term would be girlfriends or women.
    Context can change its meaning, that's for sure.
     
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    Heba

    Senior Member
    Egypt, Arabic
    suzi br, Parla, Julian Stuart, Egmont, PaulQ, Keith Bradford, LesStrater and 211BBaker, thank you so much for your enlightening replies. You have been very helpful.:)
    I checked OED too and found no reference to prostitution, but I rarely hear people use the term nowadays in a good way when referring to women they respect (unless joking). I think dictionaries sometimes miss some details relating to common usage.That is why I was asking... I was surprised to see it in the translation too, but because I am not a native speaker of English... I wanted to know if the impact it has on a native speaker was similar or close to the one it had on me.
    Again, thank you all so much.
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    I see a wench as a young woman [often] from the lower classes, who is of little or no concern to the speaker - it has a dismissive nuance.

    •a girl or young woman. ->A wench stole my wallet = Some woman or other stole my wallet.

    •a female servant. -> The wench will show you to your room = A young woman of no importance will show you to your room.

    •a sexually loose woman -> Get drunk, grab yourself one of these wenches and have a good time. = Get drunk, choose one of the women (any will do, they are all the same) and have a good time.

    For me the word is old-fashioned and Google Ngram shows a declining use since 1800. The slight upturn at the end is probably due to historical fiction.

    In the case of the poem, the date of the translation is not too important, the date of the original poem is: if the Arabic was written over 200 years ago, wench would be justified.

    I would not use it in modern English.
    My earlier reference to prostitution was with the same intent as Paul's expansion which I have bolded in blue. I was not implying that prostitutes would be called wenches. Rather it carried the meaning of "Someone is likely to be paying the "sexually loose woman"for the good time " had in that situation:D
     

    Keith Bradford

    Senior Member
    English (Midlands UK)
    ... there was an episode in which Morse investigated a murder that had taken place in the 1800s Oxford by studying archived records and history books. Title: ‘The Wench is Dead’. The choice of ‘wench’ for that story is consistent with the idea of a Victorian working lass the film tried to portray.
    And of course that title is a quotation from the Jew of Malta (1590):
    "Thou hast committed
    Fornication: but that was in another country,
    And besides, the wench is dead."
     

    221BBaker

    Senior Member
    Spanish (Canarian) & Catalan
    I never guessed there was more to that title than it seemed. It's quoted from a Marlovian play, no less.

    Thank you, Mr. Bardford.
     
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