We often hear women say they want a man “to spoil” them on Valentine’s Day, or on other occasions, and after the event they say they “feel spoilt.” Some women want the spoiling experience so badly that they complain with an air of aggrieved entitlement when it doesn’t eventuate.
What exactly does this term mean, and where did it originate?
The word “spoiled” was derived from the Latin and Old French verb “spoil”, which meant “to strip, rob, plunder, pillage.” The term spoiled was also used to describe something that was “destroyed, ruined, damaged so as to render useless.” It was first applied to children or women in the sense of “over-indulged, injured in character by excessive lenience” in 1640, and carried the additional meaning of “to become tainted or unsavory, go bad, and lose freshness” – in other words a reference to something going rotten, like a piece of stinking fish or old fruit.
The word “spoiled” became synonymous with pampering women in the context of romantic relationships, where a man would treat his woman like a queen or a princess and indulge her every whim with chivalric deference and love service. The implication here is that spoiling is synonymous with going too far on behalf of spoilee, and spoiler.
A Google search for spoiling someone on Valentine’s Day, by gender, returned the following results:
“Spoiled her” – 409, 000 results
“Spoiled him” – 24, 000 results
That’s a differential of 17:1 in favor of women being recipients of the spoiling experience, and if we take spoiling a partner on Valentine’s Day or on any other occasion as a measure of gendered status, it appears women are doing very well.
The only question remaining is whether society understands the root meaning of this little phrase to spoil, and its social consequences.