5

A womanizer is:

  • a man who always seems to have a new girlfriend, and who has no hesitation about starting up a new relationship before he's ended the last one. Usually, these relationships are sexual and don't last long. The noun womanizer comes from the verb womanize. (Vocabulary.com)

to womanize:

  • 1590s, "to make effeminate," from woman + -ize. Sense of "to chase women, to go wenching" is attested from 1893. (Etymonline)

I couldn't find the reason why the term changed its meaning but I guessed it was probably influenced by the increase in popularity in England in the late 19th c. of a character like Casanova, a most famous womanizer:

"man of carnal adventures, connoisseur of seduction," 1888, from Giacomo Girolamo Casanova de Seignalt (1725-1798), the infamous debaucher.

Question:

Can anybody provide more information about the change in usage of the term womanize?

  • 1
    Pure speculation: the original usage was uncommon enough that whoever used it to mean "to chase women" in 1893 probably thought they were making it up. – shadowtalker Dec 19 '18 at 15:56
2

The first instance of womanize, ‘to emaculate, make feminine/effeminate’ dates from the time men wore velvet, lace collars, and a large pearl earring if their wealth permitted:

for as the loue of heauen makes one heauenly, the loue of vertue, vertuous; so doth the loue of the world make one become worldly, and this effeminate loue of a woman, doth so womanize a man, that (if hee yeeld to it) it will not onely make him an amazon; but a launder, a distaff-spinner; or what so euer other vile occupation their idle heads can imagin and their weake hands performe: — Sir Philip Sidney, The Countesse of Pembrokes Arcadia, 1593. EEBO

Womanizer in the Casanova sense dates at least to 1822, where the word appears in a still hilarious article about the recent erection of a statue commemorating the Duke of Wellington. British women had subscribed to fund the statue, raising some £10,000, roughly £1.17 million in pre-Brexit currency, and decided that the perfect way to honor the hero of Waterloo was with a classical nude (but for a figleaf) of Achilles:

It is true, that as the Duke is a great womanizer, they might, if they had pleased, have placed, with equal propriety, a beautiful naked Venus on this pedestal; but that would not have been so agreeable to themselves. “Mr. Achilles; or The Ladies’ Man,” The Rambler’s Magazine, 1/8 (1 Aug. 1822), 340.

Though married, the duke and his wife lived mostly apart; his various affairs and liasons were common knowledge.

enter image description here

Wellington Monument, London, Source

The older meaning of womanize, ‘emasculate’ was not supplanted by ‘chase women for casual affairs’; the new meaning was simply added on. The word train, for instance, existed before the railroad.

“Gary Hart womanized: Al Gore risks being womanized.” Whether neoliberals are sexually aggressive or skittish, they all seem to fear womanization. — Vanity Fair 51, 42, 1988.

Womanized in the sexual sense is intransitive. A womanizer simply womanizes — Gary Hart womanized. When reinforcing the speaker’s notion of masculinity, womanize is often used in the passive voice, but a man is womanized by some person, action or circumstance. According to this writer, Al Gore risks being womanized by some unstated agent. In the Arcadia, worldly love for a woman womanizes a man.

Although he is a womaniser, this activity paradoxically womanises him, for it immerses him in a sensuous existence stereotypically associated with the feminine and running counter to the life of self-denial espoused by Lisa's husband. — Gale Research Company, Twentieth-century Literary Criticism, 1999, 232.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.