Dam Vs. Bitch: How Words Change In The Veterinary Lexicon

Patty Khuly, DVM
Published: August 17, 2006
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Dam Vs. Bitch. No, this is not the female pro-wrestling fight of the decade or any morning on Jerry Springer. Dam is the new-fangled word for bitch, as in, an intact (not spayed) female of the canine species. And now I’d like my turn on Jerry Springer (it was his ilk and our popular culture’s defamation of the word that has led to its decline in veterinary circles).

In scientific articles since 2005, the accepted term for an intact female canine (particularly when you refer to reproductive processes) has become, dam. Why they have to stick to the swearword format, I’ll never know. At least it’s spelled differently than the damn-you-to-hell variety. Poor choice notwithstanding, the new word has its champions.

Why? Because, let’s say I tell a worried owner, Your bitch is in heat. Immediately, I know things are not going well when she assumes a stricken look. These situations are not good. Children laugh. Men become almost as uneasy as when you whip out the fecal rod (that thing you stick in pets` butts to fish out poop).

Yes, it’s true: bitch is no longer an acceptable word, now even in the canine world. Outside this small circle, its dictionary definition might as well be the rude one. I don’t exactly know how this happened. But I have a theory (you knew I would). First, some history:

Since the early1900`s, bitch has been a word to elicit occasional titters and jeers outside the insular world of dog breeding. As you well know, it is a derogatory expression intended to disparage a woman’s character (as in, "She’s a raging bitch!").

Now things have changed. In 2006, when we say, "Who’s the bitch now?," the object of derision is invariably male. The word is rendered far more offensive in this context. And all of a sudden it’s hands off the word bitch.

So how about this for a theory? When men become the target of an insulting term, especially one that impugns their masculinity, it’s condemned in any polite conversation, even in its original context.

Or maybe (to be kind to maledom) it’s that the word has now been processed so thoroughly that its original meaning has been finally and irrevocably rendered obsolete, even among pop culturally challenged veterinarians (most of us don`t watch The Wire).

I would say the word lost its polite meaning way back before the Model T. But I’m just a girl, what do I know?

For my part, I’ll continue to solicit shocked expressions when I ask (standing in the supermarket line) how your bitch is doing.