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Feminist philosopher Mary Daly's serious wordplay

January 10, 2010 | 10:45 am

Mary Daly

Mary Daly, the radical feminist theologian and philosopher who died Jan. 3 at 81, was known for her wordplay, which expressed her belief in language as an essential weapon of subversion.

She delighted in subversion as an unapologetic lesbian separatist at Jesuit-run Boston College, where she held a faculty position for 33 years until her exclusion of men from her classes forced her retirement.

Considered a founding mother of modern feminism, she took common pejoratives, such as "hag," and applied new meanings. So she proudly called herself a "Positively Revolting Hag," which in her feminist universe denoted "a stunning, beauteous Crone; one who inspires positive revulsion from phallic institutions."

Another favorite of hers was "academentia," which she defined as the "normal state of persons in academia, marked by varying and progressive degrees; irreversible deterioration of faculties of intellectuals."

She listed these words and many others in "Websters' First New Intergalactic Wickedary of the English Language" (1987),  a bawdy and often blasphemous feminist dictionary "conjured" with Jane Caputi. According to Emily Erwin Culpepper, a University of Redlands religion and women's studies professor who knew the philosopher for nearly 40 years, Daly spent her last conscious hours listening to a friend read from the book.

You can find Daly's obituary here.

-- Elaine Woo

Photo: Mary Daly in 1999. Credit: Associated Press