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Tweet Reveals Hilarious Old-Fashioned Word for "Spinster," Goes Viral

Who wouldn't want to be a thornback?

If you're over a certain age and you have yet to find a partner, chances are you've joked about being a spinster. Hundreds of years ago, spinster used to simply describe women whose job it was to spin wool. But by 1828, Merriam-Webster acknowledged a second meaning: "an unmarried or single woman." There's no question that being called a spinster is offensive and derogatory. After all, the implication is that past a certain age, a woman is no longer even eligible to be married, and is doomed to a solitary life of spinning wheels. But thanks to a tweet from writer Sophia Benoit that's gone massively viral, we know now that spinster actually used to be reserved for unwed women between the ages of 23 and 26. After that, a spinster evolved to become… a thornback.

To be clear, a "thornback" is actually the name of a hideous species of ray fish with spines on their backs, so the term is in some ways even more odious than spinster. But it just sounds so much cooler. "Spinster" conjures up the image of a sad woman who has resigned herself to a life of solitude and wool. "Thornback" sounds like a mystical dragon that flies free and cannot be tamed.

thornback term for single women over 26

Spinster: Making a Life of One's Own author Kate Bolick further explained the origins of the terms in a 2015 interview with The Star:

"During the colonial period, Americans were trying to build their population. You needed women to be wives and mothers. If you were unmarried by 23, you were a spinster. If you weren't married by 26, you were a thornback. It wasn't easy or fun to be a single woman during that time period. The word became the lowest in the 1950s when only 17 percent of women were unmarried. To be a single woman during that time was difficult. You were ostracized, you were outside of the society. It was about keeping the social order intact. You began to believe, I'd better get married or I'd become an ugly old spinster."

Even as early as the 19th century, some feminists were trying to reappropriate the term spinster to designate a woman who had made the choice not to marry due to societal pressure. There's been a renewed push in recent years to destigmatize the word, too. But maybe we should just replace "spinster" with "thornback" since everyone on the internet is so excited about the term.

Many people are even coming up with other names we can use for single women for different age brackets, too. After the age of 83, for example, someone suggested single women should simply be referred to as "Judi Dench."

Others have done a little digging and found out there's another hilarious term for single ladies everywhere.

Now that we know about "thornback," we can never go back to "spinster."

Shout out to all the thornbacks out there!

And if you're wondering what kind of outfit would be perfect for an unapologetic thornback, check out 40 Common Fashion Tips Women Should Always Ignore.

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Diana Bruk
Diana is a senior editor who writes about sex and relationships, modern dating trends, and health and wellness. Read more
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