“distaff. Originally a cleft stick on which wool or flax was wound in the process of spinning, the word distaff came to be used (from the 14c. onward) as a type of women’s work or occupation, and hence, symbolically, for the female sex and the female branch (or line of a family. The term female line seems to be preferred by scholarly genealogists (e.g. A.R. Wagner, 1960), but it is not unusual to hear the term distaff side used by gentlemen in after-dinner speeches or the like.”
–Fowler’s Modern English Usage
This word is new to me, and for some aesthetic reason I like it.
I can’t say I’ve ever loosened my belt an after-dinner speech where a gentleman called something distaff. As our language becomes less gendered with each dictionary revision, do words like this have a chance? Especially distaff, with its “negative” prefix?
I hope it can stay with us, as an antique if nothing else. I’m going to dig up some choice instances where it’s been used. Suggestions welcome.