In Reply to: Son of a bitch posted by Victoria S Dennis on September 29, 2009 at 19:01:
: : We are interested in the origin of the phrase "Son of a bitch".
: : We have found a reference in Thomas Hardy's novel "Far From the Madding Crowd" [Page 124, Chap XV] the phrase "Sons o' Witches" and was wondering about the origin of this phrase and whether or not the two phrases are related.
: My guess is that "sons of witches" is a euphemism for "sons of bitches". "Bitch" in the late 19th and first half of the 20th century was considered a seriously "rude" word in genteel circles (I can still remember in my youth that the mealy-mouthed would say "lady dog" instead). It's anybody's guess whether Hardy considered his characters would have used the euphemism, or just knew his publishers wouldn't print "sons of bitches". (VSD)
I hope it's not too far off-track to discuss "son of a bitch" once again. There are numerous references to the age and meaning of this insult, but I haven't seen it explicitly suggested that this is one way of calling a man a dog--not that there is a dearth of the more direct insult.
There seems to be or to have been a tendency to insult a man by insulting his mother. In the present age the insult is usually jocular: "Your mother wears boots." But calling a man a dog has sometimes been no joke.
OED, s.v. dog: "3. Applied to a person; a. in reproach, abuse, or contempt: A worthless, despicable, surly, or cowardly fellow. (Cf. CUR 1b.)
[Example, first of many:] c1325 Coer de L. 4518 Jhon Doyly..slowgh hym..And sayde: 'Dogge, ther thou ly!'"
Nowadays "dog" is not usually used as an insult for a man ("Die, you dog!"), although it is sometimes used of a fellow who chases women the way a male dog pursues bitches in heat. An even slighter relation exists with the use of "dog" (not "bitch") to represent an ugly woman, especially one you would rather not date. ("My blind date was a dog.")
In this age of sexual liberation you can sometimes hear a woman call someone a "son of a bitch." This seems very odd to me, a little paradoxical.
Also, no one seems to have pointed out that to call a knavish man a dog, or a son of a bitch, is an insult to dogs everywhere. No dog has ever been a knave, or worthy of moral contempt.