Friday 31 December 2004

Minx

牝狐   めぎつね (megitsune), minx

In Mori Jun’ichi’s Laundry, Teru (Kubozuka Yōsuke), a young man with mild brain damage from a childhood accident, runs his grandmother’s coin laundry where he meets and falls for a customer, Mizue (played by Koyuki, Tom Cruise’s improbable love interest in The Last Samurai).

When Mizue leaves a scarf in the dryer, Teru runs after her and returns it as she reaches her apartment block. Mizue invites him in for a cup of tea.

Teru with a cup of tea and Mizue with a cigarette, sitting on Mizue's bed

On his way back to the laundrette Teru, in a voiceover, says:

For five minutes she didn’t say a word. My heart was beating faster. It was my first time touching a woman’s hand… other than grandma’s. That night I casually told grandma about what happened. Very casually. Grandma called her a minx.

It has been a long time since I’d heard someone use the word “minx” and I was curious about its Japanese equivalent.

The word Teru’s grandmother used is megitsune. (Baa-san wa, sono hito no koto wo megitsune to itta.)

I fired up my Canon WordTank G50. Though megitsune wasn’t listed in the Japanese-English (J/E) dictionary, it was in the Kōjien (J/J):

めぎつね(牝狐)
めすの狐。転じて、男をだます悪賢い女をののしっていう語。

The character is a prefix for female while means fox.

The Japanese definition (Tenjite, otoko wo damasu warugashikoi onna wo nonoshitte iu ko) means (roughly) “a derogatory term for a crafty woman who distracts or deceives men.” My (electronic) New Oxford Dictionary of English defines “minx” more broadly:

an impudent, cunning, or boldly flirtatious girl or young woman.

Whereas the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary offers this definition:

Minx. 1542. [Of unkn. origin.] 1. A pet dog. Udall. 2. A pert girl, hussy. Now often playful. 1592. b. A lewd woman —1728. 2.b. This is some Minxes token. Shaks.

I’d vaguely thought that “minx” was in some way related to an animal but was surprised to learn that it originally meant a pet dog. I was probably thinking of “manx“—a tail-less cat “believed to have originated hundreds of years ago on the Isle of Man.”

The New Oxford Thesaurus of English provides these alternatives for “minx,” most of which seem unsatisfactory in that they emphasize the sexual at the expense of the deceitful:

tease, seductress, coquette, trollop, slut, Lolita, loose woman, hussy; informal tramp, floozie, tart, puss; Brit. informal scrubber, madam; N. Amer. informal princess, vamp; vulgar slang cock-teaser, prick-teaser; archaic baggage, hoyden, fizgig, jade, quean, wanton, strumpet.

Nowadays an “impudent, cunning, or boldly flirtatious” young woman might simply be seen as assertive so perhaps the word has fallen out of favor. That seems a pity. There’ll never be a shortage of deceitful young women (nor of men eager to be deceived) and, in any case, “minx” has always struck me as a word whose lighthearted sound matches its meaning—a young woman whose sly behavior rarely has serious consequences.

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Comments

Is there a relationship between the 狐 of mitsune and the fox of kitsune, the mythological fox shape-shifters?

For minx in English, the thrice blessed American Heritage Dictionary (blessed because it has Cal Watkin's Appendix of Indo-European Roots) offers the following:

http://www.bartleby.com/61/40/M0324000.html

. A girl or young woman who is considered pert, flirtatious, or impudent. 2. Obsolete A promiscuous woman.

ETYMOLOGY:
Probably from obsolete mynx, playful little dog, perhaps from alteration of obsolete Dutch minneken, darling. See minikin.

The OED offers as the first attestation Udall's 1542 translation of Erasmus' _Apophthegmes_ 127b, There been litle mynxes, or puppees that ladies keepe in their chaumbers for especiall iewelles to playe withall.

In 1576 OED for the 2nd definition offers 2. a. A pert, sly, or boldly flirtatious young woman. (In some later quots. used merely playfully.) Comedy Common Condicions sig. Biii, So in faithe minks your are faste, for skapyng awaie.

And the third 3. Mistress Minx: used chiefly as a form of address. Also Mrs Minx. Obs. 1576 G. WHETSTONE Ortchard of Repentance 23 in Rocke of Regard, To witch his witts, make mystresse Mynxe a baite.

Posted by Lisa Spangenberg on 31 December 2004 (Comment Permalink)

Lisa, it's the same character (狐, fox) -- the "ki" of "kitsune" changes to a "gi" when the prefix "me" is added to form "megitsune."

And thank you for explicating the etymology of "minx" so comprehensively. From now on, I'll consult the American Heritage Dictionary too. Does the OED make any reference to the possible Dutch origin of the word?

Now that I've seen each of the quotations you've included, I'm rather painfully aware of the deficiencies in my two volume Shorter Oxford English Dictionary.

Posted by Jonathon on 31 December 2004 (Comment Permalink)

That’s odd, Jonathon; I used the word “minx” the other day for the first time in ages, and called Margaret’s attention to both the word’s rarity and its phonetic elegance.

Posted by AKMA on 1 January 2005 (Comment Permalink)

The OED etymology is as follows:

[Origin uncertain. Perh. < an altered form of MINIKIN n.1 + -S2 (cf. e.g. the form Minckins s.v. MINIKIN n.1, and cf. MAWKS n.), or perh. in sense 2 < early modern Dutch mensch (cf. Middle Dutch forms minsc, minsce, minsch) or Low German minsk, minsch (Middle Low German minsche: see MANNISH n.), both used in neuter as derogatory terms for a woman (cf. Middle Low German dat junge minsche girl, freq. in derogatory use).
A borrowing < early modern Dutch menschken, diminutive of mensch, has also been suggested for sense 1, but this is rather remote in form.
The use of the word in quots. 15421, 15422 does not correspond closely to anything in Erasmus's text: ‘Sunt autem canum multa genera..sunt qui habentur in delitiis..Esuriens, inquiens, Melitaeus’ (Apophthegmata III. xxxv).]

Posted by Lisa Spangenberg on 1 January 2005 (Comment Permalink)

I too have always been fond of the word, and have found occasion over the years to address it (fondly, of course) to one or another of the women whose company I have kept.

Posted by language hat on 1 January 2005 (Comment Permalink)

This discussion is now closed. My thanks to everyone who contributed.

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