No woman with a modicum of self-respect would ever be okay being referred to as a “spinster.” The word implies a lonely cat lady who is too pathetic to find a romantic partner — ever. It’s disrespectful, insulting and unflattering. It just plain sucks.
But now, thanks to Twitter, we know that a spinster isn’t necessarily a catch-all term for any woman who can’t find a man, rather it’s a word that was initially reserved for ladies between the ages of 23-26. For those female singletons older than 26, the proper term is apparently “thornback.” Which is worse? Tough call.
Omg I just found out that spinster used to be reserved for women 23-26 and that after you turned 26 if you were unmarried you became a…. THORNBACK. How fucking great is that name!?
— Sophia Benoit (@1followernodad) March 13, 2019
While the term “thornback” also sounds like a spinster — a prickly old one — people seem to love it, tweeting replies such as:
GOD, Thornback sounds metal AF. I LOVE IT.
I see an epic mini-series! Instead of The Thorn Birds, its the Thorn Backs – Older women doing shit they love without the burden of men and marriage
33-year-old thornback and I am HERE FOR THIS.
So like, woman over 26 and unmarried turn into dragons? That’s awesome.I was a thornback for a full 10 months! I feel like I missed out on using my superpower.Sounds like a Game of Thrones or Harry Potter dragon. I’m here for it!
According to The Daily Mail, author Rebecca Traister wrote about the term thornback in her book “All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation,” where she explains that “At twenty-six, women without spouses became thornbacks, a reference to a sea-skate with sharp spines covering its back and tail. It was not a compliment.”
Yes!! It was not a compliment. Thank you, Rebecca.
On the flip side, the word spinster was never meant to be an insult. Author Naomi Braun Rosenthal says that by the seventeenth century, the word had come to mean an unmarried woman. But “it was not until the eighteenth century that the term ‘spinster’ became synonymous with the equally ancient, but considerably less neutral appelation, ‘old maid.'”
As part of the Civil Partnership Act, the words “spinster” and “bachelor” were retired from wedding registry documents in England as recently as 2005 in favor of a blanket term for unmarried people: single. Much better.
For those who think thornback is an upgrade from spinster, what is wrong with you?