Posted by Jim on April 24, 2002
In Reply to: Stag posted by TheFallen on April 19, 2002
: : : : : Does anyone know the origin of this phrase, and why we speak of hen nights and stag nights, not stag and doe nights, or hen and (perhaps understandably) cockerel nights?
: : : : I haven't looked up these words, so here's a quick answer based on observations only: "Old hen" and "old biddy" have long meant a middle-aged or old woman, one whom the speaker dislikes or feels superior to. A typical flock of chickens on a family farm, when keeping chickens was more of a cottage industry, consisted of many hens and one rooster if the owners were interested in breeding chicks, or many hens and no rooster if the goal was egg production. So hens hung out together, pecking and gabbling ("Shirley, these little hors d'oeuvres are so cu-u-ute! You simply must give me the recipe! Corn grits with a touch of oats, is it?"), and roosters were solitary.
: : : : Antlered mammals would be a better model for a group of men because the males do associate, at least for fighting during mating season. Macho men are sometimes called "bucks."
: : : In many parts of Scotland a woman is often called 'hen', such as 'how are you then,hen?' Perhaps this is the origin.
: : STAG -- "In the 1930s, 'stag movies' were short, pornographic films shown at 'stag parties' for men about to be married ('stag' had been used to mean 'for men only' since 1934)." From "Speaking Freely: A Guided Tour of American English from Plymouth Rock to Silicon Valley" by Stuart Berg Flexner and Anne H. Soukhanov (Oxford University Press, New York, 1997). Other uses of stag: going "stag" to a dance (going without a date) and standing in the "stag line," a line of men waiting for a dance with an unattached woman. Those two terms are dated, don't you think? The only place I've heard them recently is on old Andy Griffith Show reruns. Gomer and Goober standing in the stag line.
: There's another stag connection with odd male rituals - even possibly ones that involve willingly drinking alcohol to excess and regurgitative quantities, soliciting the favours of ladies who are prepared happily to remove all their clothing for the appropriate fee, and then being left naked chained to a lamp-post somewhere. The Horned God referred to in both Celtic and early English mythology was a symbol of all things male - I believe that the Celts called him Cernunnos. Legend from these times is often confused, but it seems clear that in pre-Christian times, Brits definitely worshipped a large hairy god who sported antlers, ran around with the Einheriar, or wild hunt, and who probably belched at inappropriate times, never bothered putting the toilet seat back down, and who stayed out far too late without ever phoning home to warn anyone.
Meredith Willson's "The Music Man" has a scene that parodies the ladies of River City as a clutch of hens clucking and feeding on "scratch". "Pick a little, talk a little, pick a little, talk a little, pick, pick, pick, talk a lot, pick a little more.
Also, my rural Michigan grandmother, back in the twenties and thirties, hosted "hen parties" which were all night, all female social gatherings featuring oyster shucking, stew making and card playing.