-vore extended

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A carnivore eats meat; an herbivore eats grass; an insectivore eats insects; an omnivore eats everything; a locavore eats locally-produced food. But the latest -vore coinage, femivore, doesn't refer to someone who eats feminists, but rather to, well, something different.

Peggy Orenstein, "The Femivore's Dilemma", NYT 3/11/2010:

Four women I know — none of whom know one another — are building chicken coops in their backyards. It goes without saying that they already raise organic produce: my town, Berkeley, Calif., is the Vatican of locavorism, the high church of Alice Waters. Kitchen gardens are as much a given here as indoor plumbing. But chickens? That ups the ante. Apparently it is no longer enough to know the name of the farm your eggs came from; now you need to know the name of the actual bird.

All of these gals — these chicks with chicks — are stay-at-home moms, highly educated women who left the work force to care for kith and kin. I don’t think that’s a coincidence: the omnivore’s dilemma has provided an unexpected out from the feminist predicament, a way for women to embrace homemaking without becoming Betty Draper. “Prior to this, I felt like my choices were either to break the glass ceiling or to accept the gilded cage,” says Shannon Hayes, a grass-fed-livestock farmer in upstate New York and author of “Radical Homemakers,” a manifesto for “tomato-canning feminists,” which was published last month.

[Update — more here (on the cultural rather than morphological aspects).]


  1. Karen said,

    March 14, 2010 @ 9:07 am

    This is not so much -vore extended as fem(i)- used sort of jocularly and sort of as a put-down, something that happens much more frequently than the extension of -vore.

  2. Don Monroe said,

    March 14, 2010 @ 10:23 am

    To my ear, "locavore" already breaks the pattern, since it is less about an attribute of the food than about the social context in which it is produced. But maybe that's just my lack of enlightenment, since in this view the social context is an inherent property of the food.

  3. Will said,

    March 14, 2010 @ 11:42 am

    @Don: Actually, I think you are absolutely correct. The roots that "-vore" attaches to are are now actually altering the meaning of the suffix. "locavore" does already break the pattern (it's not one who eats locals!). Femivore is one of several possible natural next steps in the evolution of this suffix.

    I don't have a whole lot to say about the actual subject. I know almost nothing about Berkely, very little about farming (I sometimes grow sprouts in jars, that's it), and while I am a strong supporter of the feminist movement in general, I am not a woman, and I know little about feminist literature.

    But what this does remind me of though is the old quote:

    If vegetarians eat vegetables, what do humanitarians eat?

    The answer, of course, being humanitables.

  4. Robert Coren said,

    March 14, 2010 @ 11:49 am

    It occurs to me that if "herbivore" is limited to its strict meaning of "grass-eater", then I can't think of the technical term for a creature that eats only vegetable matter but is not restricted to grasses.

    To me, the natural meaning of "femivore" would be one who eats females, not necessarily feminists.

  5. Will said,

    March 14, 2010 @ 11:56 am

    I also think it's telling that Peggy Orenstein's quoted passage came from a work whose title alludes to Michael Pollum's book ("The Omnivore's Dilemma", for anyone not acquainted), since his book was really the what brought the term "omnivore" into the collective mind of pop culture. Without that book, I'm pretty sure the "-vore" suffix would have remained in a relatively limited scientific domain and would not be subject to the evolution described here.

  6. language hat said,

    March 14, 2010 @ 12:10 pm

    As a good descriptivist, I eat my language change like my vitamins, knowing it's good for me, but I really, really hope "femivore" doesn't catch on.

  7. Will said,

    March 14, 2010 @ 12:28 pm

    @language hat: I admit, I too cringed a little.

  8. Anonymous said,

    March 14, 2010 @ 1:06 pm

    My first try at this comment seems to have not worked, so sorry if this appears twice, but I just wanted to warn the gentle readers of LL that searching for "vore" on Google might not be suitable for all audiences, as they say.

  9. John Lawler said,

    March 14, 2010 @ 1:21 pm

    @hat, Will: Me too, once I figured it out.
    But, really, the level of cliché fireworks (chicks with chicks/kith and kin, omnivore's dilemma/feminist predicament, the glass ceiling/the gilded cage, grass-fed-livestock/tomato-canning feminists, etc.) in the two quoted paragraphs soon had me gasping for oxygen to the point where I didn't care about the fate of poor little -(i)vore any more, let alone fem(i)- .

  10. Alexa Steele said,

    March 14, 2010 @ 2:19 pm

    I agree with Robert Coren in that "femivore" sounds more like "one who eats females," which led me to believe this post was going to be less than appropriate for all audiences when I read:

    "femivore, doesn't refer to someone who eats feminists, but rather to, well, something different."

  11. Simon Cauchi said,

    March 14, 2010 @ 2:29 pm

    My dog is a bibliovore. I once had a nice little ex-library edition of two verse dramas by Mary Shelley. Not any more, though.

  12. Will said,

    March 14, 2010 @ 3:05 pm

    My dog is a homeworkivore.

  13. D.O. said,

    March 14, 2010 @ 3:22 pm

    Anonymous, do you realize that your post is the best ad for the search? (Well, maybe for Russians only, it is said that the surest way to make a Russian jump off a cliff is to post a sign "No diving"). Anyways, wiki page for -vore is pretty instructive. It shows that suffix -phagy is no less productive than -vore. Thus somebody owing OED can possibly enlighten us about subtle differences in meaning, history, etc. etc.

  14. NW said,

    March 14, 2010 @ 3:43 pm

    As the word 'femivore' is nowhere glossed in this posting, do I just guess that it's been formed by abstracting from various kinds of '-vore' in the sense of "person who pays attention to the origin of what they're eating", in effect giving a virtual transitional noun 'vore', then being prefixed with an indicator of the kind of person who is a vore? Or am I missing something?

  15. John Lawler said,

    March 14, 2010 @ 3:58 pm

    I think it's a sketchy, two-dimensional word, rather like superette 'small self-serve market', a word made up of a prefix and a suffix without benefit of a root to attach them to.
    The sense in which the two constitutents of such a word are to combined is TBA, just like the combinatory senses of noun compounds (pony ride, snake bite, grapefruit seat, etc.).

  16. Dan T. said,

    March 14, 2010 @ 4:03 pm

    Richard Lederer refers to himself as a "verbivore".

    Do libertarians eat liberty?

  17. Dick Leed said,

    March 14, 2010 @ 4:06 pm

    D.O., thanks for inserting -phage into this page. Maybe 'phagyvore' could be interpreted as having a number of senses, or nonsenses, as the case may be.

  18. Mark P said,

    March 14, 2010 @ 4:19 pm

    They're not femivores. They're farmers. Subsistence farmers to be sure. (They would be peasants if they didn't have money.)

    Politicising farming by giving it a new name isn't actually changing what they are doing. If a male does it, or a woman in the Third World does it, it is farming. Because it is farming.

    If they want to claim such things as a source of power for women, all strength to them. But they shouldn't need silly new words to do it.

    And they are not "homemaking" either. (I say this, having once been a stay at home dad. This is another word that does not apply to men, even when they do exactly the same thing, for the same reason.)

  19. Mr Punch said,

    March 14, 2010 @ 4:39 pm

    "Femivore" is apparently being used to denote a person whose alimentary choices promote feminism (in some sense). The meaning is a bit specialized, and the formation is perhaps jocular, but there are a lot of terms like that.

  20. Fritinancy said,

    March 14, 2010 @ 4:57 pm

    @MarkP: Farmivores?

  21. Meg said,

    March 14, 2010 @ 5:09 pm

    I've yet to understand how raising hens for eggs is feminist. Granted, I have two hens (from my pre-vegan days) and I do consider myself a feminist, but I find that being a vegan (as I am now) is much more feminist than raising female animals for their eggs or milk. It is certainly not the lifestyle I would want to lead as a female and I am thankful that, because of the great feminists of the past, women like myself get the opportunity to live lives where we aren't treated as property, as little more than baby-making machines!

    Is it feminist because the female animals live longer lives than the males? The brothers of those hens are, in almost every single case, killed off after being determined to be male (even the brothers of backyard hens). The brothers/sons of cows are likewise killed. They're turned into veal. And of course, the females, whether chickens or cows, are almost always killed when their "production" slows — well before their natural lifespan. I say this not in judgment but because I have met an outstanding number of people who are completely unaware of the system. Of course, we've yet to see what these specific people do with backyard hens when they've outlived their "usefulness". I wonder if they've put much thought into that (I can't say I did).

    The way I see it, feminism — among other things — means not treating women like they are only here to be baby factories. Therefore, I repeat, how is this feminist? How is it feminist to treat female creatures as egg factories or milk factories?

  22. Alec said,

    March 14, 2010 @ 7:34 pm

    @Robert Coren

    It occurs to me that if "herbivore" is limited to its strict meaning of "grass-eater", then I can't think of the technical term for a creature that eats only vegetable matter but is not restricted to grasses.

    The word you want is "phytophage" or "phytophagous". Seems to be used mainly for insects but I see no reason why it should be restricted to them.

  23. Jerry Friedman said,

    March 14, 2010 @ 7:59 pm

    @Meg: I think the feminism has nothing to do with the sex of the chickens but is supposed to be greater economic self-reliance while raising children instead of depending on a provider, and maybe less dependence on the presumably male-invented and male-dominated food-distribution business.

  24. Trimegistus said,

    March 14, 2010 @ 8:12 pm

    This is different from ordinary farming. It's feminist farming. You can tell because they have to congratulate themselves endlessly about canning some tomatoes.

  25. Coby Lubliner said,

    March 15, 2010 @ 1:51 am

    "Femivore" sounds especially funny to someone who knows Catalan, since fem means 'dung.'

  26. Michael W said,

    March 15, 2010 @ 2:01 am

    Farms? in Berkeley?

    Are there many other fem(i)- words that got tossed around? I'm only familiar with feminazi (and I guess this femivore, now).

  27. Jen said,

    March 15, 2010 @ 2:29 am

    This is the problem with descriptive linguistics. You have all sorts of individuals/bloggers/free lancers (i.e., anyone with a public podium known as a website) making up words without regard to their semantic structure, and descriptivists want to describe this "language change in progress" and accept it as valid rather than calling it out as what it really is: the whim of an indiviudal speaker who is looking for attention. LOL! What you should be doing is announcing to the world that the author of the article is an idiot who did not think before coining this neologism.*

    Thankfully, the principle of "survival of the fittest" will take its course and "femivore" will soon be destroyed most likely, since Americans are an intelligent species for the most part. However, should that not happen, prescriptivists must swoop in and prevent such abhorrent words from gaining a foothold in the English language.

    *I would also like to propose an analysis where the author of the article in question is not an idiot. Perhaps she views these Berkeley nutcase tree-hugging mothers as "feminist omnivores", and she chose to shorten this rather awkward phrase to "femivores". In that case, it is the linguists here who are at fault for not properly analyzing the structure of this word.

  28. Julie said,

    March 15, 2010 @ 5:31 am

    I don't think I call a handful of chickens and a vegetable garden "farming."

    It's not even subsistence, but a little supplement to a cash-based household. I think the chickens in this case are probably closer to being household pets than livestock, and I doubt they'll be slaughtered the minute their production falls off. More likely they'll be mourned when they die of natural causes. (I lost my pet chicken to an unfortunate encounter with a boisterous puppy. It wasn't just the eggs I missed.)

    I'm glad I'm not the only one who reads "femivore" as "woman eater." Seems like a horribly wrong coining. They may have intended "feminist omnivore," but it doesn't come out that way.

    I can understand the urge to produce one's own groceries….I just don't see how it's particularly feminist. (And I do consider myself a feminist.) Seems to be a cyclical wave. Every 20 or 30 years, people tire of the rat race and look for a more peaceful life. My mother remembers living a semi-self-sufficient life when she was a child in the 30s and 40s. Sounds good to me.

  29. Stephen Jones said,

    March 15, 2010 @ 10:44 am

    Marvellous aren't you, Jen darling.

    You make an alternative proposal without a shred of evidence to back it up, and then you trumpet the believe that prescriptivists have any effect at all despite all evidence to the contrary,

    The neologism may disappear; most do. What is being done here is to see how it differs from the standard pattern (the prefix now has morphed from the eaten to the eater)

  30. Nick Lamb said,

    March 15, 2010 @ 11:19 am

    Having spent a pleasant afternoon watching chickens the first word that comes to mind is "saurian". Sure, a few seconds glance at them pecking at something might convince you they're not so different from a nippy little hedgerow bird or even from the eerily smart Corvidae family, but watch for longer and it's obvious that underneath those feathers the chicken is 100% lizard still.

    I suspect lizards would taste pretty good and be more convenient to keep too.

  31. Robert Coren said,

    March 15, 2010 @ 11:22 am

    @Alec: Thank you. Of course I was hoping for a Latin-based equivalent (and my Latin, absorbed rather than studied, is insufficient to the task), but I'll take what I can get.

  32. Jim said,

    March 15, 2010 @ 12:29 pm

    "Farms? in Berkeley?"

    Now there's a real local!

  33. Assistant Village Idiot said,

    March 15, 2010 @ 4:14 pm

    The irony shipment to Meg's neighborhood seems to have been delayed. Cliches went out on schedule, however.

    Subsistence farming, with or without poultry, is feminist because in that neighborhood "feminist" and "the coolest women" are interchangeable. I suspect that is where the word is going anyway, losing specific meaning to become a general compliment for women of a certain class (Cf. "gentleman"). That's a pity. The word had been somewhat flexible in meaning, but a valuable descriptive term. Now it's getting mushy.

  34. Rob said,

    March 15, 2010 @ 8:00 pm

    I keep on reading the word as fernivore and interpreting it as someone who eats ferns. The brain doesn't want to even believe in femivore.

  35. j a higginbotham said,

    March 15, 2010 @ 8:53 pm

    How about lachanikaphage or phutikophate? Although I have trouble reading "chicks with chicks".

  36. Jeffrey said,

    March 16, 2010 @ 10:48 pm

    This disturbs me just about as much as the use of the word metrosexual, which has nothing whatsoever to do with sexual orientation.

  37. John Burgess said,

    March 17, 2010 @ 8:01 pm

    Jeffrey: Sure it does! 'Metrosexual' clearly connotates one who, while being heterosexual, adopts certain behaviors and products more generally associated with homosexuals. Skin care products, hair products, scents, etc. are not popularly related to macho behavior. Even caring about such things is not typically 'macho'.

    Perhaps it's just lack of imagination, but I'm not able to figure out how a woman can be a metrosexual. It appears to be a put-down of certain males.

  38. anon said,

    March 19, 2010 @ 12:10 pm

    Here is an instance of "aldivore", referring to a recipe all of whose ingredients are available at the Aldi chain of discount grocery stores.

  39. Troy S. said,

    March 26, 2010 @ 3:26 pm

    @Robert: Don't worry about your lack of Latin studies for not coming up with "phytophage." It's entirely Greek-derived.

  40. David Fried said,

    March 30, 2010 @ 11:32 pm

    Just thought I'd mention a brilliant accidental coinage by my son when he was six or seven: "Dad, I'm a vegetarian, not a meatatarian!"

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