Posted in theology

Sassy? Don’t be!

By Elizabeth Prata

Twitter is interesting and it is also depressing. I swing between the two. I haven’t posted much, but I read a lot and I watch the flare-ups come and go.

An outburst happened a few days ago that got me thinking. I’m a Yankee transplant, a New Englander who moved to the deep South 15 years ago. There IS a cultural difference between the two regions. Sometimes it isn’t that noticeable and sometimes it is massively evident. The vocabulary is different, for example. I push a shopping cart at the grocery store, Georgians push a buggy. I press the remote button, they mash it. Pajama parties are spend-the-night parties. Sneakers are tennis shoes. Wastebasket is a trash can. And don’t EVER say a barbecue is pushing around a patty of hamburger over open coals, no ma’am. BBQ is an entirely different process, yielding entirely different food.

Cultural behavioral norms are also different. Politeness and hospitality are prized. Children and youths are taught to say ‘yes ma’am’ and ‘no sir’. Being abrupt in conversation is frowned upon, lengthy greetings and drawn-out closings in conversation are expected.

Then there’s the word sass. Sassy. Sassiness. Along with the word “sweet,” it’s used a lot down south but almost never up north. (Sweet to describe a nice person, as in, “She is such a sweet baby” or, “They are from such a sweet family” or “Be sweet!” – usually said to a girl). I always interpreted sass to mean back talk, as when you hear a mother say to a youngster, “Don’t you sass me, young man!” and the opposite of sweet.

As girls grow older and into young women and adult women, the word sassy sticks and it drops off the boys. A sassy girl is someone who is mouthy, full of vinegar, or pointed in conversation. It can also mean stylish or prissy, like dressed up, hand on hip sashaying into a room kind of sassy.

At NPR’s article “How ‘Sassy’ Came to Mean Something Both Sweet and Sour“, they say that “sassy” started out in Elizabethan times as “saucy,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary, which defines it as:

“Impudent, saucy, ‘cheeky.’ “
“Outspoken, provocative.”
“Conceited, pretentious.”
“Self-assured, spirited, bold.”
“Vigorous, lively.”
“Stylish, ‘chic’.”

There is no need to rehash the Twitter flare-up. It was a cloudburst that came and went. Someone expressed a disapproval of the word sassy when applied to women, someone else mentioned that looking in the scripture for sassiness as a character of a Godly woman, they came up empty. The feminist mob got agitated like someone’d kicked a mound of fire ants, running about all outraged and how-dare-you! They came in screaming from all directions, changed their Twitter handles to include the word sassy, they mocked and scorned. Then it peaked. Apologies were made and graciously received, and the fire ants went off to another picnic to raise a rumpus somewhere else.

I am always concerned with the behavior of Christian women. When I was graciously saved the human behavior manual I had always been looking for turned out to be the Bible. I take it seriously. I’m grateful that such advice and admonishments exist, so that I know what will please my Savior. The Bible advises differently according to our age or marital status, but several of the same qualities are repeated in the Old Testament and the New for women of all ages:

Of course these are not ALL the qualities God desires women to exhibit. There’s the industrious woman, the diligent woman, the motherly woman, etc. I do not see ‘sassy’ in any of the lauded qualities that God desires women to display. And cherry-picking the more socially appropriate synonyms listed above doesn’t get around the problem that sassiness is not a desirable quality a believing woman. It’s not true that when most people hear the word sassy they think of a woman who is “lively, bold, and full of spirit.” Those are just feminist code words for abrasive, caustic, and annoying.

Sass-talk is often just muted rage, which of course is not good. There are many Proverbs and New Testament verses about anger, the mouth, and speech. While sassiness is more of a method of delivery for gossip, witticisms, or caustic comebacks, an attitude or behavior, even though a comeback might be funny, the sassiness with which it its delivered is still a negative. Just as the Bible warns not to be deceived by smooth speech, we should not be deceived by seemingly benign sassy-talk if what is being said is inadvisable.

Sassy might be cute in a hand-on-hip sashaying 4 year old, but not in adult Christian women. Of the ladies who tried to defend the behavior, I’ve seen sassiness compared to Queen Esther in terms of being bold. Queen Esther was bold but certainly did not go sashaying into the throne room, finger pointing, saying “Hey Mr King, do me a solid, y’all scepter toting High Mighty man!” She in fact prepared herself for three days and nights by fasting, dressing appropriately, and standing and waiting outside the throne with poise, even though she could be killed for arriving without having been summoned. She waited until she was gestured in (and granted life instead of death). When she approached the King, she maintained protocol by touching the top of his scepter then politely delivering her request.

Does that read sassy to you? No matter what part of America or beyond you’re from, and no matter how you interpret the word sassy? In fact, Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary notes that Esther “touched the top of the scepter—This was the usual way of acknowledging the royal condescension, and at the same time expressing reverence and submission to the august majesty of the king”.

A woman can be lively and full of spirit, but should not be sassy. A believing women is called to be quiet, demure, modest, submissive, discreet. These (among others) are the desired qualities in a woman. I feel sad for the many feministic ladies on Twitter and elsewhere who tout their Christian sassiness. It is unfeminine.

I will share my opinion that will likely be unpopular, but really, it is my opinion no one deep down respects a sassy woman. Does a boss really want a constant barrage of mouthy back talk from his employee? No. Does a husband really want a handful of a wife with a caustic mouth? No. Does a church really want to deal with a woman who indulges her “high spirits”. High spiritedness (which sassy has been lauded as a synonym for) is usually just unrestrained conduct. Oh, a boss or a man or an elder might laugh at a sassy witticism, but when they seek a potential employee/wife/church member, they likely often give pause and reconsider that woman for the role, because, if she starts out as sassy, where does she go from there? It often devolves into sinful speech or behavior. See exhibit # 1 below-

See, even false teacher Beth Moore knows that sassiness is undesirable. She was recently included in a lauded list of “sassy women” the tweeter was complimenting. Below, a year ago, Moore exhibits her inability to display self-control (1 Corinthians 9:25, Proverbs 25:28) and to restrain her mouth. Do you want to be like a Beth Moore? I hope not.

Beth Moore cannot restrain her sass and knows she’s annoying. God knows too. Don’t be like Beth Moore. Don’t be sassy.

So, sassy ladies, I gently encourage you to take your hand off your hip, tuck that wagging finger back in, stop the shoulder swag, and seek the better qualities God intends for us to display. It is for His name, after all. God and sassy don’t really go together, do they?


Christian writer and Georgia teacher's aide who loves Jesus, a quiet life, art, beauty, and children.

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