AskDefine | Define termagant

Dictionary Definition

termagant n : a scolding nagging bad-tempered woman [syn: shrew]

User Contributed Dictionary

see Termagant.



From Termagant.


  • /'tɜ:məgənt/


  1. A quarrelsome, scolding woman
    • 1907, Isaac Flagg, Plato: the Apology and Crito, p. 196.:
      The name of Xanthippe, the wife of Socrates, has become proverbial for a termagant.
    • 1970, Robertson Davies, Fifth Business:
      Easier divorce, equal pay for equal work as between men and women, no discrimination between the sexes in employment – these were her causes, and in promoting them she was no comic-strip feminist termagant, but reasonable, logical, and untiring.



  1. scolding or shrewish
    • 1993, Anthony Burgess, A Dead Man in Deptford:
      These bishops with their termagant wives throw the book at us and say believe because I demand belief and by God I will burn or hang and quarter you if you do not.

Extensive Definition

In Medieval Europe, Termagant was the name given to a god supposedly worshiped by Muslims.

Origin of the concept

European literature from the Middle Ages often referred to Muslims as pagans, or by sobriquets such as the paynim foe. These depictions represent Muslims worshiping Muhammad as a god, and depict them worshiping various deities in the form of idols (cult images), ranging from Apollo to Lucifer, but their chief deity was typically named Termagant, rather than Allah.
The origin of the name Termagant is unknown, and does not seem to derive from any actual aspect of Muslim belief or practice, however wildly distorted. W. W. Skeat in the 19th century, speculated that the name was originally "Trivagante", meaning 'thrice wandering', a reference to the moon, because of the Islamic use of crescent moon imagery. An Anglo-Saxon origin has also been suggested, from tyr magan ("very mighty"), referring to the Germanic god Tyr. Another possibility is that it derives from a confusion between Muslims and the Zoroastrian Magi of ancient Iran: thus tyr-magian, or "Magian god".

Termagant in literature

Whatever its origins, "Termagant" became established in the West as the name of the principal Muslim god, being regularly mentioned in metrical romances and chansons de geste. In the 15th-century Middle English romance Syr Guy of Warwick, a Sultan swears an oath:
So help me, Mahoune, of might,
And Termagant, my god so bright.
In the Chanson de Roland, the Muslims, having lost the battle of Roncesvalles, desecrate their "pagan idols" (lines 2589 - 2590):
E Tervagan tolent sun escarbuncle, / E Mahumet enz en un fosset butent,
They strip the fire-red gem off Termagant / And throw Mohammed down into a ditch. . . .
In the Sowdone of Babylone, the sultan makes a vow to Termagaunte rather than Mahound (Muhammad) (Lines 135-140):
Of Babiloyne the riche Sowdon,
Moost myghty man he was of moolde;
He made a vowe to Termagaunte:
Whan Rome were distroied and hade myschaunce,
He woolde turne ayen erraunte
And distroye Charles, the Kinge of Fraunce.
In Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, the Tale of Sir Thopas (supposed to be told by Chaucer himself on the pilgrimage) is a parody of these chivalric romances. In the tale, a giant knight named "Sir Oliphaunt" is made to swear an oath by Termagant.
Termagant also became a stock character in a number of medieval mystery plays. On the stage, Termagant was usually depicted as a turbanned creature who wore a long, Eastern style gown. As a stage-villain, he would rant at and threaten the lesser villains who were his servants and worshippers.

"Termagant" as a shrewish woman

Because of the theatrical tradition, by Shakespeare's day the term had come to refer to a bullying person. Henry IV contains a reference to "that hot termagant Scot". In Hamlet the hero says of ham actors that "I would have such a fellow whipped for o'er-doing Termagant, it out-Herod's Herod". Herod, like Termagant, was also a character from medieval drama who was famous for ranting.
Mainly because of Termagant's depiction in long gowns, given that female roles were routinely played by male actors in Shakespearean times, English audiences got the mistaken notion that the character was female, or at least that he resembled a mannish woman. As a result, the name termagant came increasingly applied to a woman with a quarrelsome, scolding quality, and thus the name applies today to a quarrelsome, scolding woman. Virago and shrew are also pejorative names for other types of unpleasant, aggressive woman. Nevertheless, the term is still sometimes used of men. The Australian politician Kim Beazley labelled a male opponent a termagent.

Other Termagants



External links

termagant in Japanese: ターマガント
termagant in Russian: Термагант

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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