A single word can define an era and so it was at the end of the 19th century. Both men and women were told to change their approach to life. Language changes with the times and often reflects our current values and beliefs. On page 19 of the April 1896 issue of “Vickery’s Fireside Visitor” the word Fierce changed from being slang to proper English.
The word first gained popularity in Manhattan and Brooklyn and became popular amongst both young and old. Soon it signaled a new way of approaching all things.
“In order to be up with the times, we must no longer talk of a heavy rain, but of a fierce rain. A blizzard is a fierce snowstorm….A desperate misfortune is fierce. A great stroke of good luck is fierce. The enforcement of the excise law is fierce. It is fierce to be married, twins in the family are fierce, and it is fierce to die, whether naturally or by accident.
“A president’s proclamation or message is fierce. Anything that is exceedingly mild is fierce… Hard times are fierce and so are prosperous ones.”
Although the newspaper’s proclamation was a bit tongue in cheek, it did reflect a new standard which would be seen in language and behavior throughout the next century. Gentle behavior and timid approaches were no longer in style. Heroines in pulp fiction were portrayed as women of action, and a “take control” approach to life was highly praised.
Many etiquette and advice columns written at the turn of the century praised individuals who chose a “fierce” approach to life. They also counseled their readers to always be prepared and to take responsibility for their actions.
In the July 1907 edition of Modern Women the columnist Constance Armstrong urged women to assemble an emergency drawer. This precaution will prevent unnecessary and expensive visits by the doctor and show the strength and intelligence of the women who take the time to be proactive.
Armstrong then continued her column praising an old school friend who had happened upon hard times. The poor woman had suddenly become a single mother of three young children, forced to live in a very small house “way out there in the country”. When the writer finally found time to visit her friend, she was amazed to discover a small but attractive home and well-adjusted children. The woman had refused to fall prey to self-pity and excuses. Instead she “rolled up her sleeves” and applied herself. Although just a woman, she learned how to use varnish remover, sand paper, and dark oak stain. She was indeed fierce.
Choosing to live life without excuses was the trademark of success. Self-reliance was the stepping stone to self-actualization. Poverty was no excuse for an unkempt appearance or a poorly set table. A person could choose to work extra hours or put in the effort to make the clothing and furnishings they owned look neat and attractive.
Now in the 21st century the word “fierce” may have taken on new meaning and self-reliance may no longer be the governing principal to all things. However, those men and women who choose to prepare for emergencies, refuse to live by excuses, and use their muscles and ingenuity in difficult situations may become the leaders of this new century.
So, are you fierce?