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The following meanings for the word "scold" are given in Oxford Dictionaries:

  • a woman who nags or grumbles constantly.
  • remonstrate with or rebuke (someone) angrily.

So, the first one is a noun, the second one is a verb. My question would be - given the meaning of the noun, does the verb have any gender connotations?

In other words, if I say "he lost the will to scold" would it sound as natural as if I say "she lost the will to scold". Can a man scold at all?

UPD: for those who vote for closing - I'm actually surprised that I even need to state it loud and clear - I'm not trying to push any kind of sexist agenda - but I'm just asking whether some specific word is de-facto used in specific context - statistically speaking.

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  • Related information at Are there "X-scolds" formula words that go current other than "deficit scolds"? where two answers address the historic gender-specificity of the noun form of scold.
    – Sven Yargs
    Jun 22 '17 at 22:30
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    The verb form of scold is entirely gender-neutral. I only learned today that scold has a noun form as well, one of which is a nagging/grumbling woman as you point out, but I have never heard nor seen this usage before and am a native speaker, so I can confidently say that it is highly uncommon, whereas its use as a verb is very common. Jun 22 '17 at 22:34
  • @SvenYargs I'm not sure these questions are related at all - completely different questions asked
    – shabunc
    Jun 22 '17 at 22:34
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    'Scold' is a frequently used verb in Indian English and is entirely gender neutral, but teachers and parents are more likely to scold you than tailors, traders and gardeners. Wife will scold husband for forgetting to buy the vegetables and husband will scold wife for spending too much money. If your car breaks down in the middle of the road, irate motorists will scold you for blocking their path and making them late for office. Boss will scold you if you are 15 minutes late 3 days in a row. Teachers and elders will scold you for no reason at all because they are like that only. Jun 22 '17 at 22:46
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    It's not gender-specific, but it's gender-prejudiced. A statement that from a man might be considered "normal" could well be considered "scolding" when coming from a woman.
    – Hot Licks
    Jun 23 '17 at 2:57
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To move past the questions in the body of shabunc's question, let me assert without proof two propositions that seem subjectively true to me: (1) "he lost the will to scold" sounds no less natural than "she lost the will to scold"; and (2) a man certainly can scold. Having done that, I'd like to turn to the intriguing question posed in the header to this question: Is "to scold" gender-specific?

In order to examine the possibility that cumulative past and present use of scold as a verb is not gender-neutral, I think we would do well to go beyond the interesting and useful chart that appears in rosslh's answer. Obviously, scolding isn't the only form of remonstrance that people can engage in. To see whether the gender distribution of the verb scold is generally similar to or significantly different from that for other verbs of reproof, I reran rosslh's Ngram query for scolded and scolds, for three other somewhat similar verbs: reprimand, reprove, and criticize/criticise. Here are the results, starting with a slightly simplified repeat of rosslh's scold chart:

Here is the corresponding chart for reprimand:

Then the corresponding chart for reprove:

And finally, the corresponding chart for criticize/criticise:

The scale of these charts is not identical: the charts for reprove and criticize/criticise cap at about 0.0000300%, the chart for scold at half that percentage, and the chart for reprimand at less than half the percentage of scold. So the frequency scale shown on the reprove and criticize/criticise charts is double that shown on the scold chart and five times that shown on the reprimand chart.


EDIT: I forgot to include rebuke in my roundup of verbs the first time around. Here is how it plays out, with a scale that caps at .0000250%:

Again the graph has far more in common with the ones for reprimand, reprove, and criticize/criticise than with the one for scold.


The upshot of these charts appears to be that, although the verb scold was applied with almost equal frequency to male and female remonstrators until the late 1970s, nothing at all similar occurred with regard to reprimand, reprove, criticize/criticise, or rebuke. In each of those four charts, the distribution of usage skews very strongly toward male speakers.

Thus, we see—long before the remarkable jump in "she scolded" relative to "he scolded" in rosslh's chart that began in about 1976—a concentration of use of scold as the preferred verb for female reproof, while the verbs applied to male reproof ranges across all five verbs tracked here in substantial numbers. Collectively, it seems to me, the data suggest that the verb scold, while probably not gender-specific in most people's conscious minds, has served as the gravitational center for verb choice when the situation calls for conveying female reproof.

I say "suggest"—and not "indicate" or "establish"—because many verbs are available to express dissatisfaction with a person's behavior or performance, and it may be that other verbs that I haven't considered at all help account for the imbalance that appears in connection with the five verbs that I have looked at.

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  • thank you for this investigation, it's a very interesting read.
    – shabunc
    Jun 23 '17 at 7:35
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    Note that much of the bias is apt to be related to (traditional) position/occupation. Mothers and schoolteachers are apt to scold, while business managers/bosses are more apt to reprimand. This while the choice between words is largely determined by the formality of the action.
    – Hot Licks
    Jun 23 '17 at 18:54
  • It is a wonderful example of how ngrams can be 'mined' to make thought-provoking observations. My question is simply why did scolding become so dramatically, strongly associated with women (going by ngrams) since the 1980's? Jun 23 '17 at 19:03
  • @EnglishStudent: It's a good question—and one that I can't answer. Evidently, the rise in frequency of both "she scolded" and "he scolded" is partly due to a significant increase in the frequency of reflexive use of the verb—"she scolded herself" and "he scolded himself," especially the former—but that accounts for considerably less than half of the overall increase in "she scolded" since the early 1970s. ...
    – Sven Yargs
    Jun 23 '17 at 19:48
  • ... See this Ngram for the plotlines of "she scolded herself" and "he scolded himself" as subsets of “he scolded” and “she scolded.”
    – Sven Yargs
    Jun 23 '17 at 19:48
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According to Google, since around 1975 scolding has more frequently been used referring to women than men. I would imagine that this has to do with how scolding is typically done by people who work with young children, which in the past has been generally seen as a role associated with women.

That being said, there's no reason a man scolding someone wouldn't make sense- it just has been less common in literature.

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  • Potent use of Ngrams to record an observation that raises more questions than it answers! Why did the application of 'scold' to women increase so dramatically since 1975? Jun 23 '17 at 20:22
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Scold, as a verb, is not gendered. Anyone can scold, or be scolded.

However, the archaic noun form of "scold" (e.g, "a village scold") is exclusively female. It was used to refer to a disagreeable woman who would publicly argue with others. (Wikipedia's article "common scold" has more details.) This usage is extremely rare in modern English, and can safely be ignored.

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