Q From Jane Van de Ban; a similar question came from Richard Dury in Italy: Can you tell me anything about the expression Who’s she? The cat’s mother? I’ve heard it used in a context in which you’re talking about a woman and referring to her as she rather than by name.
A How it came into being, I really can’t begin to discover. All I can tell you is that it’s first recorded about the end of the nineteenth century (at least, the Oxford English Dictionary has citations from that period; Jonathon Green says in his Cassell Dictionary of Slang that it dates only from the 1950s in the form of a direct reply to somebody asking rudely or intrusively “who are you?”). In its older form, as you say, it was usually said to a child who used she to refer to some grown-up when this was thought to be insufficiently polite.
Search World Wide Words
Recently added pieces
Vape; Bridegroom; Lilly-low; The Language Myth by Vyvyan Evans; Boot and trunk; Zoilism; Fish-faced; Poach; Immensikoff; Habiliments; The Sense of Style by Steven Pinker; Agister; The Word at War; Not so green as you’re cabbage-looking; Peely-wally; Draw a line in the sand; Porphyrogeniture.
Support World Wide Words!
Donate via PayPal. Select your currency from the list and click Donate.
Buy from Amazon and get me a small commission at no cost to you. Select your preferred site and click Go!