AskDefine | Define scold

Dictionary Definition

scold n : someone (especially a woman) who annoys people by constantly finding fault [syn: scolder, nag, nagger, common scold]


1 censure severely or angrily; "The mother scolded the child for entering a stranger's car"; "The deputy ragged the Prime Minister"; "The customer dressed down the waiter for bringing cold soup" [syn: call on the carpet, rebuke, rag, trounce, reproof, lecture, reprimand, jaw, dress down, call down, chide, berate, bawl out, remonstrate, chew out, chew up, have words, lambaste, lambast]
2 show one's unhappiness or critical attitude; "He scolded about anything that he thought was wrong"; "We grumbled about the increased work load" [syn: grouch, grumble]

User Contributed Dictionary



From Old Norse skald "poet". English since the 12th century.



  1. A person fond of abusive language, in particular a troublesome and angry woman.

Related terms


  1. To rebuke.
    • 1813: Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
      A week elapsed before she could see Elizabeth without scolding her —




Extensive Definition

The prescribed penalty for this offence involved dunking the convicted offender in water in an instrument called the "cucking stool". The cucking stool, according to Blackstone, eventually became known as a ducking stool by folk etymology.
Other writers disagree with Blackstone's assertion equating the two sorts of punishment seat. The Domesday Book notes the use of a cucking stool at Chester, a seat also known as cathedra stercoris, a "dung chair", whose punishment apparently involved exposing the sitter's buttocks to onlookers. This seat served to punish not only scolds, but also brewers and bakers who sold bad ale or bread, whereas the ducking stool dunked its victim into the water. Francois Maximilian Misson, a French traveller and writer, recorded the method used in England in the early 1700s:
The ducking stool, rather than being fixed in position by the river or pond, could be mounted on wheels to allow the convicted woman to be paraded through the streets before punishment was carried out. Another method of ducking was to use the tumbrel, which consisted of a chair on two wheels with two long shafts fixed to the axles. This would be pushed into the ducking pond and the shafts would be released, tipping the chair up backwards and ducking the occupant.
A scold's bridle, known in Scotland as a brank, consists of a locking metal mask or head cage that contains a tab that fits in the mouth to inhibit talking. Some have claimed that convicted common scolds had to wear such a device as a preventive or punitive measure. Legal sources do not mention them in the context of the punishment of common scolds, but there are anecdotal reports of their historical use as a public punishment. In the United States, scolds or those convicted of similar offenses could be sentenced to stand with their tongue in cleft stick, a more primitive but easier to construct version of the scold's bridle, but the ducking stool also made the trip across the Atlantic. The Anecdotes also suggest penological ineffectiveness as grounds for the stool's disuse; the text relates the 1681 case of a Mrs. Finch, who according to this account had received three convictions and dunkings as a common scold. On her fourth conviction, the King's Bench declined to dunk her again, and instead ordered her to pay a fine of three marks, and ordered her imprisoned until payment took place. The Percy miscellany also quotes a pastoral poem by John Gay (1685–1732), who wrote that:
I'll speed me to the pond, where the high stool
On the long plank, hangs o'er the muddy pool,
That stool the dread of ev'ry scolding quean.
and also a 1780 poem by Benjamin West, who wrote that:
There stands, my friend, in yonder pool,
An engine call'd a ducking-stool;
By legal pow'r commanded down,
The joy and terror of the town.
If jarring females kindle strife. . .
While these literary sources do not prove that the punishment still took place they do provide evidence that it had not been forgotten.
In The Queen v. Foxby, 6 Mod. 11 (1704), counsel for the accused stated that he knew of no law for the dunking of scolds. Lord Chief Justice John Holt of the Queen's Bench apparently pronounced this error, for he announced that it was "better ducking in a Trinity, than a Michaelmas term", i.e. better carried out in summer than in winter. The tenor of Holt's remarks however suggests that he found the punishment an antiquarian curiosity and something of a joke. The last recorded uses of the stool for ducking involve a Mrs. Ganble at Plymouth (1808) and Jenny Pipes, a notorious scold from Leominster (1809). In 1817 Sarah Leeke, also from Leominster was sentenced to be ducked but the water in the pond was so low that the authorities merely wheeled the her round the town in the chair. In 1972, a prosecution for being a common scold was brought in the case of State v. Palendrano in which the defendant was charged in relation to a disturbance. The New Jersey Superior Court ruled the law was void because of its vagueness.

Current status of the law

In England and Wales, the only part of the United Kingdom where the law had any effect, no prosecutions of common scolds have occurred for a considerable period. Counsel in Sykes v. Director of Public Prosecutions [1962] AC 528 described the offence as "obsolete", and section 13(1)(a) of the Criminal Law Act 1967 eventually abolished it.
The offence of being a common scold has become obsolete in the United States because only women could commit it, contrary to current interpretations of the Equal Protection Clause, and because in any case all crimes must be statutory under current interpretations of the due process clause in the Fourteenth Amendment of the constitution of the United States. Many states have laws or ordinances restricting public profanity, sometimes blasphemy, excessive noise, or verbal disorderly conduct. But such laws all involve statutory crimes; men as well as women can commit the offences, and they do not carry the distinctive punishment reserved for the common scold.
The offence was abolished in the Australian state of Victoria in 1969 (Abolition of Obsolete Offences Act 1969)


External links

scold in Hebrew: אשת מדנים ציבורית

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Xanthippe, admonish, amazon, baste, battle-ax, bawl out, beldam, belittler, berate, bitch, blame, blister, brace, bring to book, cackle, call, call to account, captious critic, carol, carper, carpet, castigate, cat, caviler, caw, censor, censure, censurer, chastise, chatter, cheep, chew, chew out, chide, chirk, chirp, chirr, chirrup, chitter, chuck, clack, cluck, cock-a-doodle-doo, common scold, coo, correct, critic, criticize, criticizer, croak, cronk, crow, cuckoo, denounce, dress down, drum, excoriate, execrate, faultfinder, fishwife, frondeur, fury, gabble, gaggle, gobble, grill, grouch, grouse, grunt, guggle, harass, harpy, harridan, have words with, honk, hoo, hoot, hound, jaw, lash, lecture, mob, momus, murmur, mutter, nag, nitpicker, objurgate, ogress, peep, pettifogger, pip, pipe, quack, quibbler, rag, rail, rant, rate, ream out, rebuke, reprehend, reprimand, reproach, reprobate, reprove, revile, roll, row, set down, set straight, she-devil, she-wolf, shrew, sing, smellfungus, spank, spitfire, squawk, straighten out, take down, take to task, tell off, termagant, tigress, tongue, tongue-lash, trill, tweet, twit, twitter, upbraid, virago, vituperate, vixen, warble, whistle, wig, witch
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