A female dog can be called a bitch, but "bitch" is also used as a vulgar adjective (usually to describe women). The question is, which came first?

According to Dictionary.com and Etymology Online, "bitch" for a woman was used as early as 1400, but there was no mention of the time around which the word was used for a female dog (it just mentioned that it is derived from the Old English word "bicce").

closed as off-topic by Mari-Lou A, user66974, Vilmar, Blessed Geek, Hot Licks Oct 22 '15 at 8:10

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    pretty sure female dog came first; that makes more sense in terms of changes in the meaning – sumelic Oct 22 '15 at 4:38
  • You must really love dogs. With regards to your question, I'm not too familiar with the history of the word, but I'm interested in what you find. I'd guess the vulgar definition would have came first; I'll spare you from my - crazed - theory. – Le Sunstrike Oct 22 '15 at 4:40
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    considering Old English dates from around 450 to around 1060 and you've listed the word "bitch" first being used as a vulgar reference to women around the 1400s (late Middle English), I'd say you've got your answer embedded in the question, especially because the "cc" was probably pronounced like our "ch". – NadjaCS Oct 22 '15 at 6:09
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because the OP missed the section which clearly states that the origin of bitch meaning female dog is from OE – Mari-Lou A Oct 22 '15 at 6:15
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    @Mari-LouA: How so? The comment seems to just restate something Josh61's answer already implied. It's allowed to even answer one's own question. I think the issue here is just that the question itself turned out to not have a very interesting answer, since as Nadja states the answer was included in the reference. – sumelic Oct 24 '15 at 21:31

Bitch, used to refer to a she dog is the original one: (from Etymonline):

Among other synonyms, the term, used referring to women, appears to be one of the earliest, the others are from the 16th century.

  • Old English bicce "female dog," probably from Old Norse bikkjuna "female of the dog" (also fox, wolf, and occasionally other beasts), which is of unknown origin. Grimm derives the Old Norse word from Lapp pittja, but OED notes that "the converse is equally possible."

  • As a term of contempt applied to women, it dates from c. 1400; of a man, c. 1500, playfully, in the sense of "dog." Used among male homosexuals from 1930s. In modern (1990s, originally African-American vernacular) slang, its use with reference to a man is sexually contemptuous, from the "woman" insult.

  • BITCH. A she dog, or doggess; the most offensive appellation that can be given to an English woman, even more provoking than that of whore. ["Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue," 1811]

Given the fact that Old English was spoken around 450-1066AD, from this extract one can see that "bitch" was first used for female dogs.


The "female dog" meaning was the original one in Old English and earlier. It took on the meaning of "promiscuous woman" in the 1400s and the meaning has changed repeatedly since then. (Source: OED)


The dog bit first. The word bitch comes to us from the Old English, and the OED records the first written usage in the year 1000. Around 1400, bitch was applied to lascivious women and became another word for prostitute.

The OED tracks the meaning of maliciousness or unpleasantness thusly: recorded first in 1814 in Byron's letters with "bitch of a star" (bad fate); in 1904, in Kipling, who refers to "your bitch of a country."; and finally in 1913 in D. H. Lawrences' Sons and Lovers, where Gertrude Morel, one of one the protagonists, endures her husband sneering

Look at the children, you nasty little bitch.

The OED quotes William James using "the bitch-goddess success" in 1906 and James Joyce in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916) applying the word to a man:

Is your lazy bitch of a brother gone yet?

But I think we can be confident that the word bitch was applied as a non-sexual epithet long before the OED records that usage. From the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue:

BITCH.... the most offensive appellation that can be given to an English woman, even more provoking than that of whore, as may he gathered from the regular Billinsgate or St. Giles's answer--"I may be a whore, but can't be a bitch."

The term son of a bitch is recorded even earlier in a song from 1676 called Darkmans Budge (a term for a thief), noted in Slang and Its Analogues Past and Present:

There stands Jack Kitch, that son of a bitch

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