Yesterday, at lunch with a life-long friend, we raised a toast to the English language. The child (him) and the grandchild (me) of immigrants, we had been talking about our gratitude that English was our native tongue.
Other languages are more musical, as is, for instance, Italian, the only other one I speak well. It even has a more logical grammatical structure. And you can’t beat Spanish for being easy to spell. I could go on. But those are not the lingual virtues we praised. We both love English for its richness.
Let’s take one possibility. Say you want to characterize a woman as a person who makes advances to the opposite sex.
You can call her:
A Flirt: With this description she comes across as seductive, but not serious. Her invitation is light-hearted, not serious. She may want the man, but she may just be amusing herself. And amusing him into the bargain.
A Coquette: She is a flirt with a touch of elegance and sheen of shyness
A Heartbreaker: She seems available, but she is not really. Even if he gets her in the sack, he is not going to keep her. It’s hard to tell, but she could hate him (or maybe she despises all men) all the while she is coming on to him.
A Vixen: This girl is more complicated than she seems on the surface. She may have a hidden agenda. She is young and lively. For me this word conjures a picture of her—small, slender, with a sly look in her eye
A Siren: She wants to attract him, but she does it from afar. She draws him just by being wonderfully attractive, across a crowded room.
A Tease: She offers herself quite overtly, but she has no intention of following through. She may be doing it for the thrill of succeeding. And that may be the only thrill she is after.
A Vamp: This girl is obvious. She dresses the part. She comes on like gangbusters, and she is confident that she will succeed. She picks her targets, and she gets her man.
A Wanton: this poor sad creature is indiscriminate. She’ll take whoever she can get.
OF COURSE, a girl can be called any of these names and not be any of these things.
And I cite these examples to demonstrate the expressiveness of the language, not to comment on women’s behavior.
There are a few words to describe men in the same circumstances, but not as many, and the shades of meaning they convey are not as subtle. That is because women are more complex than men. But you knew that.
We could, I think, try to match up women in literature with the terms above, Estella in Great Expectations, for example.