On the misuse of “diva”

23 Nov

I thought I’d start off my career here with the post I inadvertently promised: one wherein I explain my only qualm with the title of our shared blog. No, I have no problem with “Deadly.” I may write someday about why I see the human body as a conglomeration of weak points to be exploited. I do not even have a problem with “Seven” despite the fact that there are nine of us. The problem is with the word “Divas,” and the objection isn’t even mine, but one I inherited over a decade ago.

Like a member of a debate team, I’ll begin with hard definitions. From The New International Webster’s Italian & English Dictionary:

diva f diva; (mov) star; (lit) goddess

Back in high school and college, I had a friend who Was Going To Be An Opera Star. She immersed herself in operatic culture even before packing herself off to the music conservatory, and was so kind as to grant me an understanding of opera that extended beyond the fat lady singing. This also meant that I was treated to at least two servings of her denouncement of the dilution of Diva. Diva (and divo, the male counterpart) have historically been used to describe the finest in the ranks of operatic voices, those whose tones and vocal gymnastics made them worthy of being labeled as divine.

Of course, time marches on, and opera has fallen out of favor, so the populace has come to reapply the word, first to agile pop singers, and then of late, to any woman with an attitude, regardless of her abilities, vocal or otherwise. Rather than a rare commendation, it’s become a run of the mill insult, bandied about recklessly by those who could not even tell you which language the word is from or what it actually means, let alone comprehend its true value. So the rant went.

This friend, last I heard, was hoping to end her career in the stripping industry.

The point is that I have somewhat absorbed this point of view, but I certainly do not fault others for the popular use of it. Lexicons change, evolve, and while there are certainly changes worth resisting (you can look forward to plenty of grammar rants under this pen name), this does not rank among those on which I am genuinely willing to expend energy.

For future reference, however, I prefer to be called a bitch. It’s more honest.


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