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Bint

Q From Luci Koizumi: In reading the novel How the Dead Live by Will Self I’ve encountered the unfamiliar word bint in the phrase: ‘widows, spinsters, and bints’. At first I thought this might be similar to an ex in US slang for a divorcee. But when I searched on the Web, I found references that hint at a pejorative connotation.

A You’re right: bint is British slang for a woman or girl, but it is always disparaging and offensive and signals the user as lower class and unrefined. It’s also now rather dated.

The word is Arabic for a daughter, specifically one who has yet to bear a child. It was in common use as a slang term during the first and second World Wars among British and Allied servicemen stationed in Egypt and neighbouring countries.

Sir Richard Burton was the first person to use the word in English, in his Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to El-Medinah and Meccah in 1855: “ ‘Allah! upon Allah! O daughter!’ cry the by-standers, when the obstinate bint of sixty years seizes their hands”.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 24 Mar. 2001

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

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Last modified: 24 March 2001.