Linguistic style, Gendered language, Women's language

Document Type

Research Paper


The standup comedian serves two apparently universal functions: as a licensed spokesperson he is permitted to say things about our society that we want and need to have uttered publicly, but which would be too dangerous and too volatile if done without the mediation of humor; and as a comic character he can represent, through caricature, those negative traits which we wish to hold up to ridicule, to feel superior to, and to renounce through laughter" (Mintz 1977). So states an article published in American Humor in 1977. While not explicitly discussed, Mintz's implications are clear: women are not funny. This sentiment echoes Robin Lakoff's groundbreaking work Language and Woman's Place, which introduced the linguistic world to the idea of gendered language only two years prior. In this book, Lakoff asserted that women's speech followed nine specific, universal rules. Thus, if "he" was responsible for bridging the gap between thought and speech, speaking out and saying things that the general public could not, obviously "he" occupied a special position, an exclusive position, a gendered position not included in the rules of women's language. "Women don't tell joke ," stated Lakoff in 1975, "they are bound to ruin the punchline." We must then conclude that "he' is the only capable comedian.

One of Amazon's newest original series, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, takes aim at this gross stereotype. Winner of eight Emmy Awards, the show takes place in 1958, a year in which a woman standup comedian was confined to the realm of myth and exaggeration. Those who did find success on stage, such as Jane Lynch's character Sophie Lennon, did so through gimmicks and character . This reliance on constructing personas mirrors real comediennes of the time, such as Jackie "Moms' Mabley, who adopted the persona of an old toothless woman in a frumpy house dress and delivered both sexual innuendo and political satire. Others, such as Lucille Ball, found success in physical comedy. The show's protagonist, Miriam "Midge" Maisel, forge her path in a different direction. She set her sight , quite accidentally, on the patriarchal world of stand-up comedy, and she is good at it. This essay will examine the three most pertinent of Lakoff's original nine assertions and analyze how each contributes to Midge's power in the form of linguistic capital onstage in Amazon's fictitious 1958.

Subjects - Topical (LCSH)

Language and sex; Women comedians--Drama; Television series


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Rights Statement


Subjects - Names (LCNAF)

Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Television series)







Included in

Linguistics Commons



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