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Wednesday, November 21, 2012


The word prowess is extensively used today to describe an extraordinary skill in a specific field or undertaking. In some cases, modern use of the term prowess hasn't strayed from its original context. That is why, "prowess in poetry," is still contextually understandable , despite Sir William Davenant's use of the term in 1668.1

But nowadays, a limited outlook on the term has surfaced. While modern use of the word prowess can still be interchanged with the word skill, that skill is for some reason inseparable from extensive sexual expertise, especially if the individual that possesses the trait is male.1 So why is it that men have the potential  for prowess? Well, it probably isn't because we have developed dirty thoughts over the years. The more likely answer probably has more to do with prowess's other connotations.

As early as 1300, the term prowess began taking shape as a count noun. 1 First cited in the Middle English text King Horn, pruesce described an act of bravery; a valiant deed; a daring feat or exploit.1 Traditionally, heroism had something to do with either protection of the town/state or the people, by being courageous to others by bringing skill to the table in times of desperate need. Similarly to present day, protecting anything of value in the end of the middle ages had to do with a fight. In our ancestors' times, engaging in aggressive, gruesome battle, was extremely common. To brawl with enemies for the prosperity of the people was seen as an extremely daring feat, an occupation that men took upon themselves. Historically, princes, knights, kings and other powerful men come up as prowess possessing heroes . 1 Charles-Jean comes to mind as an example, "[he] was the only Lutheran ever to get dubbed a Knight of Malta for his prowesses against the Barbary pirates."1 Destroying a fleet of pirate ships or penetrating the enemy's defense required extreme strength and bravery explaining why these armies were male dominated.

Understanding the historical bias of the term prowess to describe male valour is important in deciphering  the terms' meaning today. Prowess almost exclusively was a term for males just after the middle ages, and today it remains associated with men because of tradition. That is why skilled men have prowess in the bedroom. The millennium man does not have such great opportunities to show off bravery like his ancestors. Instead the male phenomena of being unable to understand the female body represents the unknown of the battlefield. As a result, the traditional frontlines are replaced with bed sheets, and prowess assumes its modern sexually associated form.

1 "prowess, n.". OED Online. September 2012. Oxford University Press. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/153543?redirectedFrom=prowess (accessed November 11, 2012).

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