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 Pronunciation: ayl-wyf

 Definition: Alewife has two definitions- The female proprietor of an alehouse and aNorth Atlantic fish similar to the Herring


The word ‘Wife’ has long roots – coming from the Old English word ‘wif’, meaning ‘woman’. It has even been suggested that it could have Proto-Indo-European roots in the form of ‘weip’, referring to something that is wrapped – the suggestion being that women may have been veiled at the time (though this is only conjecture).

It was not the norm for a woman to own and operate her own alehouse in the 1400s. So society, ever fair to the plight of women (yes – I am being sarcastic) decided to come up with a term to describe such a woman. Yes – they came up with the inelegant, strange and quite misogynistic sounding ‘alewife’. Well done there, society.

The fish, it seems, was served in such taverns and was thus named for the proprietors.

 Why This Word?

 Alewife is not a nice term, period. For those of you who maybe look with an unsure eye at the ‘women’s lib’ movement – think about derogatory terms like alewife – I think you’ll start to see the benefit of the movement.

How to use the word alewife in a sentence?

For the love of god – don’t … Unless you’re a fisherman!


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Written by Sean Carabini

Seán Carabini is a Dublin-based author. To date, Seán has written the humorous travel memoirs 'Sticking Out in Minnesota' and 'American Road', as well as 'American Road: The poems' - a book of travel poetry related to the memoir. Seán has also developed a podcast based on the book - subscribe to the American Road podcast today! Seán is a committee member of the Irish Writers' Union.

Chrissy Skelton is Seán Carabini's editor. A graduate of the University of Minnesota's Anthropology programme, Chrissy emerged armed with an arsenal of little-known words and cumbersome jargon - all of which will now be off-loaded onto 'unusedwords' readers!


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