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Using the word girl in old-time Phoenix


In my lifetime, the meaning of the word "girl" has undergone changes. I came of age in the era of women's liberation, in the 1970s, and use of the word girl became a term that was inappropriate for a grown woman. Nowadays it really means a little girl, you know, giggling and silly, from the age of a toddler until about high school. But in old-time Phoenix, the word girl would apply to any female person from a toddler to marriageable age, which would be up to about 25.

The image at the top of this post, which is one of my favorites of my collection, is titled "The Girl from Sunny Tennessee", from 1922. She's up on Camelback Mountain, by the way. But this is no child. This is what we would call a woman today, or at least a young woman.

Even in the 1960s, there was a popular song "I'm a Girl Watcher", which nowadays just sounds kinda creepy. The use of the word girl has changed, and as recently as the 1960s it meant a young woman.

The way people use words changes over time, and it can be confusing, and sometimes shocking, to see a vintage photo with a caption and wonder, "What?" And that's part of the reason that so many people are outraged if they don't know the historical background. I'm working on understanding it, and if I met the young woman on the horse on Camelback Mountain in 1922 I'd call her a girl, and she would be fine with that. But not today - today I would call her a young woman.

By the way, in my lifetime I've always seen the word "girl" as a term that elderly women use for each other, such as "playing cards with the girls". And that means that when I hear the girl word I either think of little giggling girls, or elderly women playing cards.

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