We hear new words popping up almost every day, describing and defining variety of things, but when it comes to this word, “lesbian”, I can assure you that it is not something currently coined nor does it have a millennial root towards its etymology.

Have I gotten your attention now? Great, let’s jump in to this very interesting story of terming the word lesbian.

Unlike many other words you might hear in your syllabus, “lesbian” is not coined after a scientist or a psychologist or an important public figure. Nada. In actuality it is named after the Greek Island of Lesbos in Aegean Sea, dated in 1590’s.

The Verses of Sappho

This island became known as the hometown of a great female muse named Sappho. Now at that time females were not regarded as intellectual beings nor were they granted attention for anything that wasn’t “sex” related.

So why was she an exception? Simple. She wrote about things that weren’t generally expected by many philosophers, writers or the general crowd.

Her verses for her era were deemed highly erotic and forthright. And for people living in that period, women were supposed to be a docile and chaste figure, who couldn’t possibly think about anything sexual until and unless a man was put into the equation.


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She didn’t just write about men in her poems but also women, describing both the gender sexually and romantically. So naturally it was quite a big revelation and that brought her to the limelight.

Due to obvious heterosexual reasons, somehow romance sprouting between two women was frowned upon and a lot of her poems were burned and erased from the face of early literature history of Greece.

The Second Side

This is all you will find on Internet if you surf about the origin of the word, but as a literature student we were given a little more info about it.

And here is the second side, the more dramatic shade of the story.

During those times, in Greece, the 2 most prominent polis (cities) were brewing war between each other to take over as the most powerful city in the Greek mainland. These were namely Athens and Sparta.

Now all the men who were in administration were seeking a war to fill their own pockets and the governors were aiming to make their city the most powerful one so as to declare supremacy over others, but women were the ones who were at lost from both the sides of border.

Therefore, to protest against the war, women from Lesbos, started denying intercourse to men. As women were only born to satisfy men and give birth to progeny, men were taken aback. Led by Sappho these women protesters gradually made a close-knit group for themselves and supported each other.

They were involved with each other in various ways and during those times it is possible that Sappho wrote about her love for women in her pieces.

These groups and women involved were referred to as Lesbians to signify their close relations and the womanhood they embraced within their circle.

Later the word was first used in 1800’s to describe homosexual females in an article but now you know how that little insignificant island in 1590’s became an inspiration for this term and how a beautiful poet who was condemned then gave birth to a whole community in open.


Image Credits: Google

Source: liveabout, Wikipedia, online etymology dictionary

Find author: @CherryJimin17


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