Challenging Word of the Week: billingsgate

Billingsgate (BIL ingz gate)

Billingsgate is foul and abusive language, coarse invective. The word comes from Billingsgate, London, for hundreds of years the site and name of a fish market where fish sellers and porters were notorious for their foul, coarse language. The market was near a gate in the old city wall named after a property owner, Billings. To talk billingsgate (sometimes capitalized) is to indulge in vituperation and vilification. The women who worked there were particularly offensive; from the Middle English fisshwyf we get fishwife, a term applied to coarse, vituperative, foul-tongued women who belie the traditional gentility of their sex. These lines appear in The Plain Dealer, a play by the English poet and dramatist William Wycherley (c. 1640-1716):

QUAINT: With sharp invectives—
WIDOW: Alias, Billingsgate.

My example: Rosie O’Donnell’s billingsgate tendencies have been on view since she joined “The View.”

From the book, “1000 Most Challenging Words” by Norman W. Schur, ©1987 by the Ballantine Reference Library, Random House. I post a weekly “Challenging Words” definition to call more attention to this delightful book and to promote interesting word usage in the blogosphere. I challenge other bloggers to work the current word into a post sometime in the coming week. If you manage to do so, please leave a comment or a link to where I can find it. Previous words in this series can be found under the appropriate Category heading in the right-hand sidebar.

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