OED Exercise – The Female Man “Fool”

When reading the excerpt chosen by Zack yesterday, I noticed a specific word caught my attention: fool. While this word initially seems rather innocent or insignificant, the way it was used piqued my interest. As a reminder, Zack’s passage (about page 195 depending on your edition) focuses on Jael as she explains why she so often kills men. Without remorse, Jael goes on to state that “anybody who believes [she] feels guilty for the murders [she] did is a Damned Fool in the full Biblical sense of the two words.”

While the biblical sense of the word damned is quite obvious to most, I have never encountered the word fool used biblically. Therefore, my initial understanding of what Russ was trying to convey in this passage was quite limited. I knew the word fool to mean someone silly or idiotic, which makes sense in the context of the story. Someone would have to be idiotic to believe that Jael would feel guilty about the murders she commits when she obviously feels her actions were justified.

However, upon looking up the word in the Oxford English Dictionary, I found the biblical sense of the word to mean something quite different: someone who is impious. This religious overtone gives a more complex meaning to Jael’s statement. While most would connect impiety to murder, Jael does the opposite. Jael further explains, “I am not guilty because I murdered. I murdered because I was guilty.” This leads me to believe that the guilt that Jael feels is that of being born female, something all women have felt at at least one point in their life.

When thoroughly thinking about this, I think that yes, maybe at one point when Jael’s mother told her about how boys throw stones at frogs, Jael genuinely felt guilty for being a girl, but now she says the word differently. She is not guilty in the sense that she feels bad, but she is guilty of being a woman in the way she is guilty of being a murderer; it is a disgraceful title society pinned to her chest like a glowing pink cross that she cannot take off and she will no longer be sorry for.

This finally leads me to the third and most interesting definition of the word “fool” that the OED provided me with. Though “fool” often conjures images of stupidity and jesters in a royal court, I found that at one time fool meant inferior. Although the biblical definition of the word “fool” is the surface meaning presented in the text, the hidden meaning of inferiority adds to the over aching theme in the whole novel of how the world views women as inferior and lesser for reasons out of their control.

Ultimately, the OED expanded my knowledge and understanding of the text. When given multiple definitions of a word, I have found myself suddenly curious in a way I wasn’t before, looking to other resources to further the meaning of certain words. For example, the first phrase I chose was ailanthus tree. I didn’t end up using it because it did not have multiple definitions (which I suppose I should have known before I decided to look it up…), but upon research of it, I found it to mean something so much more than just a simple tree, and I feel like that applies to all of what we read.

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