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I came across this saying "karma is a bitch" a few times while reading some comments online recently. I understand karma as a religious concept to mean "what goes around, comes around". I also understand that bitch is a derogatory word for insulting a woman.

Why is karma being referred to as a bitch? Is this a new interpretation on what karma is about?

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Also used as the rhetorical question

Ain't karma a bitch?

Synonyms:

  • What goes around, comes around
  • Getting his just desserts
  • He had it coming

and strongly related to

  • Payback's a bitch

It is likely a mix of having bad Karma and the idiom Payback's a bitch, where Payback is performed by someone wronged by the now punished person, but Karma just happened to the person for some seemingly righteous reason not necessarily related to a person or physical entity.

The bitch part is personifying the concept Karma, which is claimed to have doled out the resulting punishment. In this case Karma is being unpleasantly harsh.

It is a taunt aimed at people who are supposedly asking for the situation they are in, due to their previous actions.

So the person saying it, considers the one they say it to or about, deserves to be punished because of something they did.

For example: someone is so busy pointing and laughing at a person who had an accident, that they walk straight into a lamp post and break their nose. A spectator who did not find the accident they saw funny, could say "Ain't Karma a bitch?"

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    Then shouldn't karma be praised instead of cursed because the person getting punished is getting his just desserts? Commented Jul 31, 2013 at 8:22
  • Please see update.
    – mplungjan
    Commented Jul 31, 2013 at 8:47
  • Payback's a bitch. So is life.
    – J.R.
    Commented Jul 31, 2013 at 21:08
  • @Tonepoet I agree now I re-read it. I have changed the wording. Please feel free to comment.
    – mplungjan
    Commented Jul 25, 2015 at 20:36
  • I do have a minor point of contention: The bitch remark is semantically being aimed at the karma, since it is the proverbial actor doling out retribution. In this case, the recipient of the punishment is being asked what he thinks of the divine force that is directly causing him suffering. Just to make a long story short, let's put it this way: If a woman hit your head with a hammer, which one should you usually call the bitch? A) Your split skull; B) The hammer; or C) The woman. (The genuine answer is probably is D) "Dead men tell no tales" but nevertheless, I think I have made my point.)
    – Tonepoet
    Commented Jul 25, 2015 at 20:37
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There's another meaning of bitch that should clear this up. From NOAD:

bitch (noun)
1 a female dog, wolf, fox, or otter.
2 informal derogatory a woman whom one dislikes or considers to be malicious or unpleasant.
• [in sing. ] informal a thing or situation that is unpleasant or difficult to deal with : the stove is a bitch to fix.

So, in the phrase karma is a bitch, the writer means:

"When what goes around comes around, the situation can be difficult to deal with or fix."

It might be worth noting that Collins marks this use of the word as slang, while Macmillan labels it as very informal.

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    Ah, yes - that was not even occurring to me that OP might not know that :) As I mentioned, it was not aimed at the Karma as a concept but at the resulting punishment
    – mplungjan
    Commented Jul 31, 2013 at 9:35
  • I see... the unpleasant situation is the bitch :) Commented Jul 31, 2013 at 10:23
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    @QuestionOverflow: no, receiving your just deserts is a bitch in certain situations. Commented Apr 4, 2014 at 11:32
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Charles Doyle, Wolfgang Mieder & Fred Shapiro, The [Yale] Dictionary of Modern Proverbs (2012) gives a first occurrence date for "Karma is a bitch" of 1995, suggesting that this saying is very young:

Karma is a bitch.

1995 Hollywood Reporter 7 Aug.: "Hello? Hello? HELLO? Nobody answers ... Did somebody say Tommy on line 2? Karma is a bitch" (ellipsis dots and capitalization as shown). ... Cf. "PAYBACK is a bitch" and "LIFE is a bitch."

In the Dictionary of Modern Proverbs, "Payback is a bitch" has a first cited occurrence from 1970, and "Life is a bitch" has a first cited occurrence from 1940 (and subsequent variations "Life is a bitch and then you die" [1982] and "Life is a bitch and then you marry one" [1987]). It's unclear whether "Payback is a bitch" is an outgrowth of "Life is a bitch," but I think it's likely, given the similarity in their focus on retribution, that "Karma is a bitch" is a mutation of "Payback is a bitch."

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  • In his unpublished first draft, Hobbes had "Solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and a bitch."
    – TimR
    Commented Sep 13, 2023 at 9:48

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