Further to my question I posted yesterday on the significance of the term “woman driver” used by Rush Limbaugh, I have another question:

Limbaugh’s use of ‘woman driver’ in a derogatory context reminds me of when President Bill Clinton referred to Monica Lewinsky as “that woman,” not Ms Lewinsky, that lady, or even “she or her” when he admitted to having an affair with her before the press corps.

When male celebrities are involved with an “improper relationship,” and have to acknowledge the affair in front of the press corps, they often (almost always to me) call the other side “that woman.”

Isn’t this insulting to not only the counterpart woman, but women in general? Why do they use “that woman” to the lady they were once intimate with?

  • 1
    Surely that is just to distinguish which woman is being referred to? I have seen "that man" as well.
    – Rory Alsop
    Mar 5, 2012 at 22:48

1 Answer 1


The use of the phrase "that woman" is an example of distancing language:

Distancing language is phrasing used by people to "distance" themselves from a statement, either to avoid thinking about the subject or to distance themselves from its content. Distancing language is often a means of self-deception, but distancing language used orally may indicate that a person is lying.

President Clinton's "that woman" speech is often cited as a classic use of distancing language.

  • 1
    @Ggnaume. ‘Distancing language.’ That’s a handy word exactly describes Clinton’s and other celebrities’ ‘that woman.’ It’s good that I can add it to my vocabulary stock, though I’ve never had the opportunity to use it. Mar 6, 2012 at 0:42
  • 1
    @YoichiOishi It's an interesting topic. I'm teaching the passive voice at Junior High School, and the passive voice is often used to distance oneself from culpable actions. ("Mistakes were made." rather than "We made mistakes.")
    – Pitarou
    Mar 6, 2012 at 3:34
  • Ah, "mistakes were made": that brings back memories! Well balanced by "We could kill [Daniel Ellsberg], but that would be wrong." (Distancing language of another sort.)
    – fortunate1
    Mar 6, 2012 at 16:34

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