Ms. magazine, which launched 50 years ago this summer, wasn’t destined to be called Ms. In a roundtable interview about the magazine’s founding, published this week in the New York Times Sunday Review, Letty Cottin Pogrebin recalls that one name she and her co-founders considered was Sisters. Another was Sojourner, in honor of the 19th-century African American activist Sojourner Truth. And at one point, co-founder Gloria Steinem suggested Bimbo. “She meant it as an ironic appropriation,” Pogrebin told the Times, “but in those years, we didn’t have the luxury of irony.”
This wasn’t the only bimbo-drop in the June 19 Sunday Review: On the very same spread as the Ms. story is an essay about “BimboTok,” a “sex-positive and sex-work-positive” subset of TikTok where “comedians and creators mix makeup tips with articulations of left-leaning politics” while “talking about how hot and dumb” they are. “BimboTok came about at a time when the girlboss had more or less faded as a trendy cultural type,” writes the author, Sophie Haigney. “Bimboism offers an opposing and, to some, refreshing premise: Value me, look at me, not because I’m smart and diligent, but for the fact that I’m not.”
Neither of these stories troubles to define bimbo; both seem to take it for granted that we know what it means: An unserious young woman with what used to be called loose morals. An airhead. A floozy.
But bimbo wasn’t always an insult. It didn’t even always refer to a woman. Originally a masculine Italian diminutive, the word migrated a century ago into American slang, where it changed its sex and its sense.