Discuss word origins and meanings.
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Post by Bobinwales » Mon Sep 08, 2008 4:44 pm

“You big sissy!” said the character on television.

“Where does that word come from?” asked Margaret.

“I don’t know”, I replied, “It sounds as though it started off life as ‘sister’, I’ll check on line”

So I checked on line. On-line Etymology says that it comes from sister, and dates from 1887. The Cambridge doesn’t give an etymology, but gives ‘cissy’ as an alternative spelling. Merriam and Webster give ‘cissy’ as a British version of sissy. Take it from me, I have never, ever seen the word spelled with a c.

I can’t see that it has been discussed before (but watch out, somebody will now supply a link which proves me wrong), so just how did we start calling soppy blokes sissies?
Signature: All those years gone to waist!
Bob in Wales

Re: sissy

Post by PhilHunt » Mon Sep 08, 2008 6:55 pm

I found a link which offers this origin:
Origin: 1840–50, Americanism in sense “sister”
The meaning "effeminate man" is recorded 1887, so you're only looking at 40 or so years difference between the two meanings. This suggests to me a slang term which got hijacked.
I imagine the name Sissy arose from the same origin of sister. In fact after a short search I found this.
Sissy (sometimes just Sis) is a relationship nickname formed from sister, given to girls to indicate their role in the family, especially the oldest female sibling. It can also be applied to girls as a term of affection from friends who are not family members.
Interestingly I found an alternative origin here.
The girl's name Sissy \s(is)-sy\. Diminutive form of Cecilia (Latin) "blind one". Also a common nickname for a sister. Actress Sissy Spacek.
Sissy has 8 variant forms: Cissee, Cissey, Cissi, Cissie, Cissy, Sissee, Sissey and Sissie.
That's what I love about the net. Its ability to bring confusion.
As for Cissy:
Cissy is a very rare female first name and a very rare surname (source: 1990 U.S. Census).
I've also found some examples of Cissy as a name and only one as an adjectives here and many for Sissy as both name and adjective here including one from Dickens (and you can't get anymore British than Dickens), which doesn't reinforce Webster's claim.
Signature: That which we cannot speak of, must be passed over in silence...or else tweeted.

Re: sissy

Post by Ken Greenwald » Thu Sep 11, 2008 1:29 am

Bob and Phil H., While eating my dindin last evening, I read the following in this week’s issue of Newsweek, which had just arrived – so, hot off the presses!
<2008 “The term [[‘read meat,’ so copiously used by the talking heads at this year’s U.S. political conventions]] is yet another effort to turn nebbishy politics into primal blood-sport, and the implication is that we’re all a bunch of mouth-breathers who think issues are for sissies—that insulting our opponent is part of the American fabric.”—Newsweek, 15 September, page 17>
Which reminded me to get my ass in gear and finish answering your question, which I had started on Monday and never finished (the story of my life, recently).

The dictionaries that I checked said that SISSY derives from SIS which is short for ‘sister.’ Before going any further, though, I have to tell you that all my life (well, maybe not the earlier moments) I’ve called my sister SISSIE (there were just the two of us kids), taking it to be an affectionate form of ‘sister.’ I’m not sure where I got it or how it started. Perhaps my father used it for a time (see 1859 quote under SIS), but, if he did, he didn’t continue the practice. My odd spelling came from the fact that I didn’t know how to spell it, so when I had to write it on birthday cards, I guessed and guessed wrong and it stuck, but it really hasn’t had a large impact on our relationship, as far as I can tell.


SISSY colloquial [[plural SISSIES]] [from SIS noun + Y; cf. CISSY noun and adjective]

1) SISSY: Sister
<1846 Dollar Newspaper (Philadelphia) 22 Apr. 1/7 “‘Sissy Jane’ smoothed back my hair, and smiled at me.”—Dollar Newspaper (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania ), 22 April, page 1/7>

<1854 “When Sissy got into the school here . . . her father was as pleased as Punch.”—Hard Times, Dickens, I. vi. page 41>

<1865 “The little one grasping, with such a tight hold, The frock of sweet sissy, herself not too bold.”—Short Poesm by K. H. Digby, page 39>

<1901 “Don't be frightened, sissy, I never kiss girls.”—My Brilliant Career by M. Franklin, xiii. page 107>

<1939 “It made ma make merry and sissy so shy.”—Finnegans Wake by James Joyce, apge 94>
2) SISSY: An effeminate person; a coward. [[also as adjective ‘effeminate, cowardly’]]
<1887 “Look and walk too much like sissies to do much fightin'.”—The Lantern (New Orleans, Louisiana), 27 August, page 3/2>

<1891 “He approached and sat near me, deep in conversation with a young gentle~man with sissy whiskers.”—Harper's Magazine, August, page 485/2>

<1893 (heading) “Sissy men in Society.—Powdered, Painted and Laced. They swarm at Afternoon Teas.”—Sunday Mercury (New York), 14 May, page 15/5>

<1899 “‘Well, you are a sissy,’ said Blinks contemptuously.”—Tales by T.. Hall, page 131>

<1926 A religious ‘sissy’ was anathema to me.”—British Weekly (London), 9 September, page 472/3>

<1932 “I want red blood. I don't want no sissies, see?”—Cold Comfort Farm by S. Gibbons, xvii. page 237>

<1948 “Frankie was the son of a policeman who tried to toughen him up by making him go out and fight with the boys. He grew up with an abiding fear of being a sissy . . .”—Time Magazine, 23 August>

<1963 “If he behaves in a manner more characteristic of mother he may find that he is
called a ‘sissy’ and positive reinforcements for such behavior are not forthcoming.”—Dynamics of Mental Health: The Psychology of Adjustment by Sawrey & Telford, page 40>

<1977 “Smokers proved to be sissies when deprived of cigarettes.”—Time Magazine, 21 Februry, page 40/2>

<1985 “He said tea and coffee were sissy drinks, okay for women and youngsters and ...
ah, certain other types we won't mention, but that real men preferred beer.”—From a High Place by E. Mathis, page 112>

<2005 “A sissy male child did not necessarily grow up to be a homosexual, but the inverse
was frequently assumed: that the male homosexual began as a sissy boy-child . . .”—Manhood and American Political Culture in the Cold War by K. A. Cuordileone,
By page 152>

<2008 (article title)“Selling isn't for sissies; Of course, there's the process of moving and getting the house ready for showing. But the real hardship in selling your house comes in suffering the slings and arrows of opinion from prospective buyers.”—Star Tribune (Minneapolis, Minnesota) MN), 28 June>
Some synonyms (not all precisely) for SISSY are: mollycoddle, namby-pamby, milksop, weakling, mama's boy, pantywaist, wimp, milquetoast

CISSY is also a spelling that I’ve never seen, but here it is from the Oxford English Dictionary:

CISSY = SISSY [[(2) above]]:
<1915 “Ready to look down upon the Britisher as a good-for-nothing lady-like cissy.”—Letters from the Front (Canadian Bank of Commerce) (1920) by T. L. Golden, 30 May, I. Page 19>

<1926 “Of all the milk-and-water out-and-out Cissies this settlement beat the band!”—Chambers Journal (Edinburgh, Scotland), April, page 228; December, page 790/2>

<1930 “It takes more than a cissy Englishman who couldn't find the hole in a doughnut to break trail across ‘the Barrens.’”—Chambers Journal (Edinburgh, Scotland), April, page 228>

<1938 “I can't stand those cissie pullovers.”—The Death of the Heart by E. Bowen, II. iii. page 223>

<1944 “It's me name, but it's too cissy, so I . . . picks up ‘Mick.’”— We Were the Rats by L. Glassop, I. i. page 5>

<1958 “Reason told me . . . that I was being a fool and a cissy.”—No Colours or Crest by P. Kemp, iii. page 40>

<1963 “The reason why some workers did not use protective equipment and clothing, which would have prevented many accidents, was that they regarded such things as ‘cissy.’”—The Times (London), 16 February, page 12/4>

<1994 “Twenty pence buys the freedom of the river all the way through the city on one of the River Express boats. One of the Bangkok thrills is boarding this beast [[the river boat]] as it bobs around: the boatmen wouldn't dream of anything so cissy as tying up while passengers gamely attempt to hop on and off. The Independent (London), 20 February>

<2003 “But he branded him a cissy for trying to get his rivals to force the cancellation of Friday's running. Sunday Mirror (London), 6 April>

<2008 “And other times she can get really scared. But when she gets like that I just tell her to shut up and not be such a cissy.”—South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales), 7 July>
And, since the Oxford English Dictionary (and others) say that SISSY derives from SIS, in a final step I should take a look at what the OED had to say about SIS:

SIS noun colloquial abbreviation of SISTER:
<1656 “We had need call a councell for marryinge and givinge in marriage, you for your sis, she for hers, and I for mine.”—in Memoirs (1894)by N. M. Verney, III. ix. Letter by Dr. Denton, 20 November, page 315>

<1808 “But oh, Bob, pity your poor Mam and Sis, when they will have to set out on a bleak morning, over such rough, splashy, squashy, jolting and jumbling roads as ours.”—Letters (1912) of Lady Lyttelton, ii. 18 December, page 53>

<1835 “All the friends called her sister, . . . which, as the half was easier to be bandied about than the whole, . . . soon dwindled into ‘sis.’”—Knickerbocker, VI. page 293>

<1859 “Siss and Sissy, contractions for sister, often used in addressing girls, even by their parents.”—Dictionary of Americanisms (edition 2) by Bartlett>

<1891 “Folks call boys ‘bud’ sometimes, jist like they call girls ‘sis.’”—Pagan of the Alleghanies by M. E. Ryan, page 133>

<1948 “‘Who was she? Your only love?’ ‘Gawd, no! My sis.’”—More Work for the Undertaker by M. Allingham, ii. page 26>

<1974 “You'll be wearing clothes at the Private View, won't you, Sis?”—Dead Give Away by D. Gray, i. page 14>
(all quotes from Oxford English Dictionary and archived sources)

Ken – September 10, 2008

Re: sissy

Post by Bobinwales » Thu Sep 11, 2008 9:35 am

Thank you Ken. Over here sissy really has only the soft boy meaning, and I am quite surprised to see that it is of American origin widespread as it is.

as for:
Ken Greenwald wrote:<1974 “You'll be wearing clothes at the Private View, won't you, Sis?”—Dead Give Away by D. Gray, i. page 14
I will be putting that book on the Christmas list, I won't have time to search the bookshops!
Signature: All those years gone to waist!
Bob in Wales

Re: sissy

Post by Phil White » Fri Sep 12, 2008 12:18 pm

Bobinwales wrote:Take it from me, I have never, ever seen the word spelled with a c.
Had I ever had the need to write it in the sense of an effeminate man, it would only ever have occurred to me to write it with a "c".
PhilHunt wrote:The girl's name Sissy \s(is)-sy\. Diminutive form of Cecilia (Latin) "blind one".
In Germany, "Sissi" is a diminutive form of "Elisabeth", most widely applied to Empress Elisabeth of Austria. With the ubiquitous influence of German on names in the US, I'd be surprised if there was no background there.
Signature: Phil White
Non sum felix lepus

Re: sissy

Post by Bobinwales » Fri Sep 12, 2008 1:18 pm

Sissy - soppy
Cissy - woman's name

When I said I had never seen it spelled with a "C", I was of course discounting the name.

Back in the '70s I knew a lovely German Elisabeth, her family called her Lise, I called her Liz which added wonderfully to the confusion, had I known about Sissi I could have had even more fun.
Signature: All those years gone to waist!
Bob in Wales

Re: sissy

Post by Brittgow » Thu Jan 12, 2017 11:51 pm

I came across this thread when hypothesizing on the origin of sissy as evolving from the Italian word "cicisbeo".
Apparently, these were somewhat effeminate men who accompanied their mistresses to parties, standing behind their chair and whispering in their ear. They gave advice on fashions and provided all the little necessities such as hairpins and hosiery. Strikes me that they might be called cissies in English :)

Re: sissy

Post by Phil White » Fri Jan 13, 2017 2:06 am

Interesting idea, but I find it unlikely. Ken's post picked out the earliest examples from the mid to late 19th century. Google ngram shows clearly that while the word was around in the later nineteenth century, its use only really took off around 1920 or so. The occurrences prior to the 1920s in the ngram corpus are pretty well all as a proper name. The spelling "cissy" also took off around 1920.

The various descriptions of "cicisbeo" suggest an era of Italian society that had largely passed by the middle of the nineteenth century, a time of huge social upheaval in Italy.

I think it unlikely, although not impossible, that it spanned the time gap from the mid-nineteenth century even to its earliest appearances. I reckon the origin given by Ken, namely a diminutive form of "sister" is far more likely.
Signature: Phil White
Non sum felix lepus

Re: sissy

Post by tony h » Sun Jan 15, 2017 11:54 pm

Phil White wrote:I reckon the origin given by Ken, namely a diminutive form of "sister" is far more likely.
I agree with that. Things that were not for boys, like dolls or clean knees in the holidays, were girly, boys who weren't brave were sissy. And you didn't even suggest bringing your kid sister on an adventure.
Signature: tony

I'm puzzled therefore I think.

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