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February 25, 2005

Term "Wife Beater" Gains Acceptance

I have never liked calling white t-shirts "wife beaters" for obvious reasons. I've heard too many teenaged boys use the term, and think that it's cool. Unfortunately, Ms. Musings reports that the word has been accepted into the Oxford English Dictionary. Here is what Alison Ward of the Star Telegraph has to say about it:

For at least three decades, the controversial term has been used to describe the ribbed tank top made famous by violent movie stereotypes and the Fox show Cops. Men who beat their wives, the thinking goes, like to spend their spare time drinking beer in thin white undershirts.

The shirt has traveled far beyond its blue-collar roots; celebs have made it sexy. Paris Hilton wears hers with itty-bitty skirts. It's hard to spot Eminem or Kevin Federline (Britney Spears' husband) without one. "Most nights I end up wearing a wife-beater T-shirt and boxers," Jessica Alba told the leering men's mag Maxim.

Newspapers have been claiming since 2003 that "wife-beater's" inclusion in the OED is imminent. But in its February issue, GQ -- a magazine that oughta know its men's fashion terms -- swears the word will be added next month in the OED's quarterly online update.

Jesse Sheidlower, the OED's North American editor at large, confirms this. Well, sort of.

"It's very likely that this is going to appear," he says.

Sheidlower says the dictionary accepts about 250 new words per quarter. The third printed edition of the mammoth OED won't be published for several more years, but the online version -- available by subscription -- serves as an official, ever-expanding substitute in the meantime.

So what makes "wife-beater" a contender? "If something is really common and relatively widespread, it's likely to go in," Sheidlower says.

Posted on February 25, 2005 at 12:48 PM | Permalink


Is this were Rove got his idea -- keep saying the lies until people believe them?

Posted by: CE Petro at Feb 25, 2005 6:14:49 PM

I've never used that term myself.

I used to know a guy who used to call handlebar mustaches "wife beater mustaches". And it was odd because after I heard him say that, I actually saw 2 tv shows about men who abused their spouses - and both had handlebar mustaches. (One show was "Walker Texas Ranger", of course. haha. This was years ago, mind you.)

What I want to know, is yeah - why would someone proudly want to wear something called "wife beater"? Seems to me people who like those t-shirts (or those mustaches for that matter) should vehemently object to the term.

Posted by: Chloe at Feb 25, 2005 6:51:27 PM

Well maybe this is a GOOD thing.

It will encourage the men in the target group to look twice at their own behavior and maybe embarrass them enough to change it.

Posted by: NYMOM at Feb 26, 2005 2:36:21 PM

I first heard the word "wife-beater" used in reference to white undershirts/tank tops when I was working at a gap outlet store and some guy came in asking if we had "wife-beaters."

I gave him a confused look and politely asked him to repeat the question because I was sure I had misheard him. Once he said it again and I knew I heard correctly I just gaped at him...and pretended to misunderstand what he was asking for when he pointed to his own white undershirt.

It wasn't until his girlfriend stepped in and specifically said "white tank tops" that I politely said "no, we don't carry any mens tank tops in the winter."

Posted by: Jenny at Feb 26, 2005 11:19:34 PM

Trish: Sorry about the multiple ping on the trackback. Would appreciate your comments at my post on the commercial angle of this guy who sells these tee shirts with the logos Wife beater on them. If your regular readers are offended by this guy (and I suspect they will be), comments can be addressed to:

WTF. Unbelievable

Posted by: The Heretik at Feb 27, 2005 12:03:05 PM

Thanks for the email link to the wifebeaters site. I've seen that site before, and it's nauseating. And it's okay that you pinged me a few times. Typepad burped on me a little while ago, and I think that's probably why your trackbacks came up more than once.

Posted by: Trish Wilson at Feb 27, 2005 12:23:00 PM

I was talkinga bout this with a friend... And the people we've known who've used the term have used it with disdainful irony. In that they would never wear an UNDER shirt in a public setting.

Of course I think that's how they got the term, because on those cop shows, they show up at the people's private residences when there's a domestic violence incident.

Though I still don't know why someone would wear a white undershirt to the mall to go shopping at The Gap. LOL.
Why not just go there in your boxers already? How 'bout in just a bra.

Posted by: Chloe at Feb 28, 2005 4:08:17 AM