Wuss - Wussy

Discussion in 'English Only' started by James Brandon, Dec 8, 2005.

  1. James Brandon

    James Brandon Senior Member

    Greater London (UK)
    English + French - UK
    The term "wuss" (pronounced "wooss") is slang for someone who is weak and ineffectual. It could be a combination of "wimp" and "pussy" apparently (idea of someone namby-pamby). The adj. is "wussy". I can't say I hear it very often here in London. I get the feeling it is a recent slang term and that it is American in origin. Can you confirm (or not, as the case may be)?

    PS It is not in your dictionary. (To the Mods & [Big] Wigs.)
  2. You little ripper! Senior Member

    Australian English
    Hi James,

    I found this on the internet.

    From Cecilia:
    I came across the word wuss (which I found offensive) but found it in the Webster's dictionary. Would the word wimp be an accurate substitute. And what is the origin of this word?

    Wuss is indeed synonymous with wimp. It is a shortened form of wussy, which is thought to come from pussy-wussy, making it, basically, a synonym for pussy, a slang word meaning "a feeble man" or even "a homosexual". Webster's Unabridged Dictionary dates wuss to 1980-85, but wussy is, of course, older. The OED, however, doesn't even contain wuss, wussy, or even pussy-wussy. If you are curious about where pussy in this sense comes from, see our page on sexual slang, a page that is not for the weak of heart!
    :warn: www.takeourword.com/Issue109.html - 48k

  3. James Brandon

    James Brandon Senior Member

    Greater London (UK)
    English + French - UK

    This is interesting - and in fact it is not a recent term (of abuse!) at all then... The meaning given here confirms what I knew and what I had found. There does appear to be a sexual meaning (i.e., here, potentially anti-gay).

    Many thanks
  4. mamboney

    mamboney Senior Member

    Rocky Mountains
    English (USA)
    I guess that it could have a sexual meaning, but I don't think of it that way at all. It is a common thing to hear here in the US.
    I always thought of a "wuss" as a person who is not brave, someone who is timid, afraid of asserting oneself.
    But I also think that in general it is equated with "loser".
  5. river Senior Member

    U.S. English
    A wuss is a weenie. (What could be sexual about that?)
    1. Slang. A person, especially a man, who is regarded as being weak and ineffectual.
  6. ElaineG

    ElaineG Senior Member

    Brooklyn NY
    Just wanted to note that on this side of the pond (AE), it's pronounced wuhss (or however you'd transcribe that -- rhymes with puss).
  7. cuchuflete

    cuchuflete Senior Member

    Maine, EEUU
    I've been hearing it, and sometimes using it, for many decades. It has never had, to my knowledge, a sexual connotation in current usage, whatever its origins may imply.
  8. You little ripper! Senior Member

    Australian English
    My Webster's dictionary has 2 meanings for the word.

    1. "weak and ineffectual"
    2. (slang) "wimp", "sissy"
  9. rel Member

    Same on this side of the pond (at least where I live). I'm not sure if I've ever heard it pronounced as "wooss".
    Personally I would never use that word anyway. It's one of those American imports in the same category as "sucks" and "rocks".
  10. Tamlane Member

    South-Western Ontario
    English, Canada
    I agree entirely with this assessment. I've never even heard the words 'wuss' or 'wussy' used in a sexual way. I've also never heard either use as directly associated to the male gender only. I have always used the term without gender. Is it possible that the sexual meaning is out of date, as in no longer in current use? Or is it simply not used in that context in the greater part of North America? If that is the case, where are the words used in that context?
  11. foxfirebrand

    foxfirebrand Senior Member

    The Northern Rockies
    Southern AE greatly modified by a 1st-generation Scottish-American mother, and growing up abroad.
    I agree with both points, but I do remember first hearing "wuss" in the latish 70s-- hate to point this out, but that was some decades ago.

    Not only are the terms not sexual, but they derive from a strangely non-sexual idiom involving the word "pussy"-- which on the face of it is ordinarily very sexual. Make sense? The derogatory term "pussy" is in my experience almost universally misunderstood by people who aren't old enough to have logged a lot of time on the playgrounds and sports programs in the U.S. school system in the 1950s. It's a schoolyard or playground term.

    Kids who called each other pussies were using the word correctively, and most always doing so among friends. "Don't be such a pussy" was far more common than "you're a damn pussy"-- fighting words if said with malice. The idea behind using it was to encourage a kid who was struggling with something, like pushups in gym class for example-- a way of saying "come on, you can do it." Nowadays kids would say "suck it up," an expression that originally came from military inspection, meaning "pull in your gut."

    It was also used to deter squeamishness, when you had someone in your group who was always getting cold feet about the activity under consideration. But what if we get caught? Aw, don't be such a pussy.

    Girls and women weren't called pussies. They have them, of course, and the word is a synonym for sex-- but as such it's used in the singular and without a definite or indefinite article. "Good pussy is hard to find" does not refer to a good pussy. Good pussy is redundant, "a" good pussy is oxymoronic.

    The term was also not homophobic, though I guess like "sissy" it certainly skirted that territory. Back in the 50s kids weren't real knowledgeable about the whole topic, and there was a clear demarcation between a pussy and a fruit.

    "Wuss" arose as a minced form of the term, used by people who were basically pussies, and/or confused about the proper use of the original term. TV needed a way of representing such a common expression, and though "don't be such a pussy" was innocent enough, the word it was based on was not allowed on the airwaves. Also I think "pussy" got more derogatory when kids of my generation reached draft age, and it entered the military.

    When was it that our culture got so euphemism-crazy, and why didn't good plain-spoken people of all ages rise up against the trend, as soon as it first showed itself?
  12. James Brandon

    James Brandon Senior Member

    Greater London (UK)
    English + French - UK
    When I said "a sexual meaning" (and this was 'a shortcut' that was perhaps not entirely clear), I did not mean "a directly and explicitly sexual meaning as such" but "a sexual connotation" insofar as the term (noun & adj.), according to some references seen here and there by myself prior to posting the Thread, did appear to point towards the meaning: "someone who is weak, timid, not assertive enough, a bit cowardly" => "someone who is not manly enough, not brave enough" => "someone who is not a real man" => "term of abuse occasionally used against homosexual men".

    I am not saying that this is the kind of 'reasoning' that would spring to my mind; what I am saying is that this was one possible (and implied) meaning (and target-group) associated with the word, according to what I had seen.

    I called this "a sexual meaning" in that it appeared to be referring (if only implicitly) to one sexual group in particular, that's all. Having said all that, from what several of you have said, this is not the meaning that you are familiar with, and you have explained that the meaning you are familiar with is far more general and 'neutral'.

    Thank you for all the insight into this term!
  13. I.C. Senior Member

    Heard Australians say “He’s such a wuss.” Didn't notice a sexual connotation.
  14. You little ripper! Senior Member

    Australian English
    I've also heard gay Australians use it, and the impression I got was that they were referring to an effeminate gay male. I've also heard it being used to mean someone who's a bit weak-willed or timid.
  15. I.C. Senior Member

    Well, I heard it being used when people were bitching about pains.
    The notion that being gay and not being overly tough are on the same plane may be a popular one, but I think I've heard "wuss" outside of that context. For example, a sister was complaining about the fuss her brother made about an injury and called him a wuss. I don't think she meant to indicate he's gay. But I don't feel qualified to boldly state how "wuss" is used or isn't.
  16. James Brandon

    James Brandon Senior Member

    Greater London (UK)
    English + French - UK
    OK, fair enough - it just means weak and perhaps a bit of a cry-baby, or a sissy, used in an ironic way, which does not mean (or does not have to imply) that the person is gay or not!
  17. Brioche

    Brioche Senior Member

    Australia English
    I'd say that in Australia that it is a fairly mild term.
    It implies a deficiency in manliness, but doesn't not mean gay.

    It's often used in a self-deprecating way.
    "I'm a total wuss - you'll never catch me bungee jumping."
  18. James Brandon

    James Brandon Senior Member

    Greater London (UK)
    English + French - UK
    If your average Australian is prepared to describe himself as 'a total wuss', I presume one may draw the conclusion that, indeed, 'wuss' is not intended to mean 'gay' Down Under.
  19. Orange Blossom Senior Member

    U.S.A. English
    One of my women friends called herself a wuss when she 'chickened' out of something or when she was not physically strong enough to do something. It's rather synomous with wimp.

    Orange Blossom
  20. James Brandon

    James Brandon Senior Member

    Greater London (UK)
    English + French - UK
    This is indeed clearly the meaning in Australian English, from what has been said.

    Tea Leaves :)
  21. NileQT87 Member

    San Diego, CA, USA
    USA, English
    It isn't just Aussie English. American English is identical with this word. I'm actually female, and I've said numerous times that I'm a wuss when it comes to having a fear of heights, etc...

    It basically means scaredy-cat, wimp, etc...
  22. fenixpollo

    fenixpollo moderator

    American English
    I've noticed that many of the comments that this word is equivalent to "wimpy", "weak" or "cowardly", are associated with the variant wuss, not wussy.

    I think that the older usage of the word, wussy, is very similar in pronunciation (and perhaps etymology) to the sexually-connoted pussy, and therefore retains the sexual reference.

    The modern variant wuss, which for many people lacks the sexual inference, can therefore be used in a non-vulgar way to refer to both genders.

  23. Musical Chairs Senior Member

    Japan & US, Japanese & English
    They use "pansy" here too.
  24. liliput

    liliput Senior Member

    U.K. English
    The term "wuss" has been around in UK English long enough for me not to have been aware that it was an American import.
  25. simanus New Member

    I've found that the word "pussy" usually refers to cowardice more often than physical weakness, and this could come from some sort of genitalia-oriented reference to women, but it's more likely coming from slang for a cat. It's acquired more complex meaning now, but I imagine that the word pussy may have taken on the two slang meanings separately, female genitalia and cowardice. Both of these things have some sort of symbolic link to cats, or did at one time.

    If it were implying that women were cowardly, that would be rather insulting to women, wouldn't it?
  26. Andreyevich

    Andreyevich Member

    Sydney, Australia
    Australia/Britain - English
    Wuss means anyone that is weak, or a sissy.

    There is no sexual connotation, at least not in my generation. If someone in my generation would like to make a homophobic remark, the use of the word "wuss" would, rather ironically, appear "wussy" in itself, due to the extremely mild nature of the word.

    You would be hard-pressed to offend anyone in my generation with the words: "wimp", "wuss" or "sissy". "Pussy" is only very slightly less unoffensive.

    Someone earlier mentioned that this word is a "mild term" in Australia. I dare say that the majority of offensive words are considered "mild terms" in our glorious nation, perhaps due to their often benevolent usage (i.e. the reference to "mates" as "bastards", or "c*nts" etc). :p.
  27. nzfauna

    nzfauna Senior Member

    Wellington, New Zealand
    New Zealand, English
    Here in NZ, wuss refers to someone who is supposedly scared of/to do something, a scaredy cat perhaps?
  28. Lexiphile Senior Member

    England English
    Here's an interesting twist on the word wussy that no one seems to have noticed:

    David DeAngelo, who has been making a name for himself by teaching men (mostly American college students) how to attract women into bed, uses this term extensively to describe a man who lacks self-confidence and lets his "target" control the situation. He also describes it as a mixture of wimp and pussy, but the implications are more far-reaching than just weak or sissy. For example, a man who apologises to a woman when they bump into one another on the crowded bus is wussy; if instead he accuses her of bumping him intentionally in order to get him into bed, then he is not wussy. For more details, see his website here.
    Last edited: Jul 16, 2008
  29. James Brandon

    James Brandon Senior Member

    Greater London (UK)
    English + French - UK
    This latest post on DeAngelo's meaning of 'wussy' is a bit odd, I feel (the connotations, since I am not calling into question its accuracy): it smacks of the worst possible sexism, i.e. some sort of macho interpretation of what a man is or should be. Pretty pathetic, to be honest. (And I am not a wuss or a wussy so-and-so, I hasten to add or would like to believe!)
  30. Franzi Senior Member

    Astoria, NY
    (San Francisco) English
    I've always heard 'wuss' used to refer to people who are chickening (or wussing) out of doing something--anything from eating really spicy food to going sky diving. I wasn't aware of any connotations of effeminacy. It's completely gender neutral for me and has to do with things like refusing specific dares, not a general pattern of un-macho behavior.
  31. Brioche

    Brioche Senior Member

    Australia English
    My teenage son assures me that "wuss" does not mean "gay" [homosexual] in his age group.

    I've never heard it with that connotation.
  32. Andreyevich

    Andreyevich Member

    Sydney, Australia
    Australia/Britain - English
    I agree with your son. Our age group does not really use the word "wuss" anymore - it is too dated, and has been superseded by a new variety of derogatory terms, may of which feature portmanteau insults (in particular, the fusing of a more traditional insult with a contemporary one).

    If I wanted to call someone "gay", I would not use the word: "wuss". "Wuss" would be reserved for an extremely mild reference to someone's lack of physical strength/lack of courage. As a result of its mild nature, I would never even consider using it as an insult - it would always be used in a playful, slightly mocking tone.

    If I called someone a wuss on the street, they'd probably laugh at me for using such a pathetic term. Wuss is to a "modern insult" what a hamster is to Hannibal Lector.
  33. James Brandon

    James Brandon Senior Member

    Greater London (UK)
    English + French - UK
    This BBC overview of the term claims it is US English and 1980s in origin; however, a lot of Australian contributors appear to be saying that it is Australian English, or used to be used extensively in Australia (but less so by younger generations).


    On the issue of: Is it a derogatory term as applied to gay men? the suspicion must remain that it carries - at any rates in certain circles - such connotations. If 'a wuss' is the opposite of a macho man, there will be the temptation to consider that 'a wuss', in the eyes of some speakers, must be weak, hence effeminate, hence gay. I do not condone this kind of thought process, obviously, but we know it goes on.
  34. wolfsong03 New Member

    You may or may not believe this...but I coined the word wussy back in the 70's to confound my mother. I subsituted the letter w for p in the word pussy, which indeed meant a wimp. I shortened it to wuss in fear of being found out..It spread like wildfire in my little country town of Wrightsdale , Pa. SO we could all have a joke on the parents. I have witnesses to substantiate this. Hope this helps.
  35. James Brandon

    James Brandon Senior Member

    Greater London (UK)
    English + French - UK
    Interesting claim and the Moderators may want to talk to your parents, if at all possible, to interview them and substantiate your claim to have invented the word! You should write to the Oxford Concise Dictionary and others to lay claim to the term, I suppose...;)
  36. wolfsong03 New Member

    Both my parents have passed...but the 2 girlfriends that I hung out with that also decided to use the word can back me up. I talked to them the other night. I was explaining to them that I told my boyfriend that I made that word up and he said...sarcastically...why don't you look up the origin. Well low and behold, they(wesbster) can't do it because they don't know ... I have written to them with no reply.
  37. James Brandon

    James Brandon Senior Member

    Greater London (UK)
    English + French - UK
    I am sorry to read about your parents having passed away.

    Regarding the origin of the expression, the consensus in the Thread was indeed that the word was American in origin, with the 1980s mentioned as the likely period when the word came into use.

    The way that the dictionary writers would check any claim to have created a word would be, I presume, to check recorded instances, which would tend to be written (novels, newspapers...). This makes it difficult to credit a given person if that person used the term in speaking and there is no written proof to back it up - and even though the claim may be perfectly valid.

    Alternatively, I suppose they would look at any 'cluster' of users there may be, but this term seems so widespread now (with Australian entries for instance) that it would be difficult to establish more marked occurrence in a given geographical area of the US (such as the place or district where you lived at the time).

    I know there are databases of newspapers and books that can be scanned in order to find the 1st time a term popped up, but that is only valid for written entries, of course...
  38. wolfsong03 New Member

    It's probably going to be impossible to prove, but I know it was me that started it, I'm not so sure I want to go down in history having invented such a word...I just did it to get over on my mother who was rather mean. It just happened to catch fire. It was 1974 and I was hanging out with an older crowd and thought I was very clever. I have invented a lot of things/words since then...which I am a lot prouder of..LOL
  39. MFLanky New Member

    Wolfsong and James...my best friend Ken H and I feel that we coined the term in the summer of 1972 in W Peabody Massachusetts. We were 15 years old and were at Ken's house on Hampshire Rd, thesaurus at the ready, discussing demeaning terms we could attach to our teenage rivals and tormentors. That day we learned several new words such as "nimrod" and "jackanape" which we subsequently applied to our various enemies. As we were talking about one kid in particular, Ken said "He's a big wimp", to which I replied, "Yah, a big pussy" To which we blurted out in unison "He is a WUSSY!" James, unlike you, Ken and I have always had certain level of juvenile pride for having "invented" the word. The resurgence of term Nimrod usage at Peabody HS in the mid 70's is also something of which we feel responsible :)
  40. James Brandon

    James Brandon Senior Member

    Greater London (UK)
    English + French - UK
    I have not claimed to have invented anything - yet. I can see, however, that we have 2 competing claims, here... The idea that the term would be a combination of "wimp" and "pussy" is an interesting one. I think this has been mentioned in the thread, which, I must admit, I have not re-read in full today.
  41. MFLanky New Member

    Hi James,

    I was joking to my friend Ken that the only way we could possibly substantiate our "claim" would be if some of the people to whom we directed the word wussy would: A. Recall the slur or B. Still be talking to either he or I...slim chance at best May have to press the issue at our upcoming 35th HS reunion.
  42. Fishman New Member

    Wuss has been in use in Australia for almost a century. It was coined in the trenches of France during WW1, along with many other slang terms which have made their way into common usage.

    It was never a term for homosexuality, we have many others for that which I won't hazard to go into.

    It means a fearful person. Not even wimp, which here implies small and weedy, comes close to this.

    I am going to claim the word for Australia. It is NOT US slang, it is an Aussie expatriate word.
  43. Pertinax

    Pertinax Senior Member

    Queensland, Aust
    Do you have any evidence for this claim? The earliest attested use in the OED is:
    1976 Campus Slang (Univ. N. Carolina, Chapel Hill) (typescript) Nov. 6 Come on you wuss, hit a basket‥! John's a wuss.

    I first heard the word here a decade or so ago, though I have lived in Australia for four decades. That doesn't mean that the word hasn't been in circulation a lot longer. But what evidence do you have that it was "coined in the trenches of France during WW1"?
  44. James Brandon

    James Brandon Senior Member

    Greater London (UK)
    English + French - UK
    It would be interesting to know whether the word is commonly used in Australia or not and/or was coined there (or by Australians) at an early stage. I suppose there could be a hypothesis whereby, even if it was locally minted Australian slang, it was - also - invented simultaneously (or later) and independently in another country, for instance the US.

    Going back to my original post, I mentioned an American origin and the combination of "wimp" and "pussy" with anti-gay connotations. This was all conjecture on my part.

    What puzzles me here is how lively the discussion has been around this term: I am not sure I understand why people are so interested in it. If I look at the number of people who have viewed the thread, I think it is in excess of 13,000. Maybe it is because the term is slang and is known to people, and they are simply curious to know more about it...
  45. Paul Barnes New Member

    Cincinnati, Ohio
    American English
    I was wondering about the word wussy and decided to find out if there is any information as to the origin of the term. The reason I'm interested is that I believe that I am user number one. While on active duty in Naples, Italy, I worked with several females (Navy women) and while engaging in "shop banter", I wanted to soften the term "pussy" so I modified it using "wussy" - as others have said, the word pussy has sexual connotation - I had no intention of starting a new word or trend, but the term caught on at the base and soon all the guys were talking about going to town to find some sweet "wussy" (Italian wussy, that is). The way we used the word had no connotation of wimp or limp-wristed, etc. It was simply to disguise what we wanted to say, "Pussy" (and we didn't mean little feline). I mentioned this to a friend from 2012 and he said I was crazy and that he had heard the term all his life. But, I was in Naples in 1973 to 1975 and I used the term extensively. Like I said, it wasn't my intention to start a new word - I just wanted the women who worked for me to not be offended if they overheard me talking about my exploits with the ladies. So, while I'm not looking for credit, I do think that I might be moron number one! And, I would like to add that I like wussy or wuss better than the more vulgar sounding pussy or puss.
  46. Copyright

    Copyright Senior Member

    American English
    From Etymology Online: wussy: 1960s, probably an alteration of pussy (n.2). DAS* suggests shortened from hypothetical pussy-wussy, reduplicated form of pussy (n.1).

    *DAS is Dictionary of American Slang, by Harold Wentworth and Stewart Berg Flexner, published 1960, revised four times since.
  47. natkretep

    natkretep Moderato con anima (English Only)

    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    The word's possible relation to wimp and puss has been mentioned above, but just for the record, the OED seems to concur:
  48. James Brandon

    James Brandon Senior Member

    Greater London (UK)
    English + French - UK
    It is possible that the idea of altering "pussy" to make it "wussy", with "pussy" being used in a sexual sense here, and the "w" coming to mind since it is also the initial letter of the word "woman" -- it is possible that this alteration may have been present in the (spoken) language for a while...

    We are given a mid-1970s origin by one contributor who says he coined the word, while reference works appear to point to a 1960s origin (potentially 10 to 15 years earlier...). It is always going to be very difficult -- indeed close to impossible -- to establish who 'invented' a word since some words can also 'arise' in several places at the same time, I suppose.
  49. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    Nice answer, James Brandon!

    Paul Barnes may feel he invented "wuss(y)" in the way in which he used it. But he clearly didn't invent "wuss(y)" in the way it's generally used:).
  50. lovingservice56 New Member

    Hi James, Wuss is a corruption of the word pussy. Bikers used this term to refer to his woman. He meant it to mean she is his property. She is the one he has sex with. It is a degrading word used only to say this is all she is good for.
    Last edited: Oct 13, 2013

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