Monday, December 08, 2008

I don't know what the opposite of "distaff" is.

The men of my family all went to Saturday's Army-Navy Game, which turned out just the way it was supposed to (a blowout for Navy, 34-0, and the seventh straight Navy win).

From the road, though, Chris called to ask a pertinent question: if "distaff" refers to the female side of one's family, what's the comparable adjective for the male side?

It's not "staff." The prefix "dis" here is a false cognate, meaning not "un-" or "not-" but "a bunch of flax," from the Middle Low German dise. A distaff is the part of the spinning wheel that holds the flax to be spun, and is thus an affirmative symbol of womanhood, not a comparative description.

In the absence of an existing word for this, I suggest we come up with a new one, based on something comparable -- but modern, because very few women do their own spinning any more. The "oilpan" side of the family? The "lawnmower" side of the family?

The "remote" side of the family feels a little too on-the-nose ...

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Powertools!!!

RBo

Bea said...

Wikipedia tells me that "sword" and "spear" were both used as antonyms to distaff, but have fallen into disuse.

AnswerGirl said...

You can call yourself the "spear" side of the family if you want, Chris, but I won't be able to help thinking of asparagus, rather than weaponry.

Anonymous said...

opposite of distaff, female line is

the male line – father’s side =

Agnate – agnatus - natus = be born

Anonymous said...

i just have to add, I am a female (the anon post per agnate) and am also the "oilpan" and "lawnmower side of the family - I change the oil on the cars and lawnmower, as well all maintenance on the lawnmower. I got about 30 yrs out of our first lawnmower....