When someone just won't let up
Nag: verb to annoy, badger, bend someone's ear, berate, breathe down someone's neck, worry, harrass, hassle, henpeck, pester, plague, provoke, scold, torment; noun a person, especially a woman, who nags
Nagging is a term used almost exclusively by men to describe women.
Most women deny they nag. They see themselves as reminding the males in their lives to do the things that must be done: household chores, taking their medication, fixing broken things and picking up their mess. Some nagging is considered constructive. Where would many men be without a woman in their lives cajoling them not to drink too much beer and eat too much fast food and, if they can't stop, to make sure they exercise and take regular cholesterol tests? Nagging might even, at certain times, keep them alive.
If men nag, however, that's viewed very differently by society. Men are not naggers. They're assertive, they're leaders, and invariably they're passing on their wisdom--and gently reminding women of the path to take if they happen to forget along the way. Sure, they criticize, find fault, moan and complain, but it's always for the woman's benefit. The repetition of their advice, like "Read the map before you set off! How many times must I tell you?" and "Can't you make more of an effort with how you look when my friends come round?" shows admirable persistence and, above all, shows that they care.
Women, similarly, feel that nagging shows that they care, but men rarely see it in the same light. A woman will chide a man about throwing wet towels on the bed, peeling off his socks and leaving them all around the house, and not remembering to take out the garbage. She knows she's being irritating, but believes the way to get through to a man is by repeating, over and over, the same instructions until they one day, hopefully, sink in. She feels the things she's complaining about are based on truth so, while she knows she's being annoying, she feels justified in continuing. A woman's female friends won't see her as nagging either--they'll see the man as lazy or hard to handle and feel nothing but sympathy for his long-suffering partner.
"The Man Song," a comedy song penned by Sean Morley and reproduced thousands of times over the Internet, was an instant hit when released. Women love it because it says that nagging can sometimes yield results; that is, men understand who's boss. Men love it because it says something they've perhaps always, secretly, known too. One of the verses starts:
The sooner you'll learn who's boss around here,
the sooner you can give me my orders dear . . .
Cause I'm head-honcho around here . . .
but it's all in my head . . .
But usually, when a woman starts repeating her orders, the male brain hears only one thing: nagging. Like a dripping tap, nagging wears away at his soul and can gradually build a simmering resentment. Men everywhere put nagging at the top of the list of their pet hates. In the USA alone, there are more than two thousand cases a year of men murdering their wives and claiming that their nagging drove them to it. In Hong Kong a husband who hit his wife on the head with a hammer, causing her brain damage, was given a reduced jail term by a judge who said he had been driven to violence by nagging.
Women's Nagging vs. Men's Moaning
Women nag; men instruct.
After reading Why Men Don't Listen and Women Can't Read Maps, a man who called himself "Henpecked Jeremy" sent us this email:
I need your help. I'm married to the Queen of Naggers and I can't take another minute of her nitpicking, complaining and harassment. From the moment I arrive home until the moment I go to bed, she starts her nagging and never lets up.
It has come to the point where the only communication involved between the two of us is when she tells me all the things I didn't do during the course of the day, week, month, or since we've been married.
The situation has become so negative that I'm even asking the boss for overtime at work. Can you imagine that? I'd rather stay at work than go home. The stress of listening to her complaints is so strong that I get headaches while driving home from work. It shouldn't be like this--I should be excited about leaving work and getting home to see her.
My father used to tell me that all women complain and nag, and I never believed him until I got married. Even my buddies tell me their wives nag them all the time. Is it true that women are natural-born naggers? Please help me.
A group of women eating in a restaurant were overheard having a group discussion about their husbands.
Blonde woman: "You know, he's never satisfied. He's always complaining. If I don't want sex at the same time as him, he moans to me so much, sometimes I just give in to shut him up and then I don't enjoy it much. Maybe I don't feel in the mood. But he goes on and on and on until it's just much easier to go along with it than to listen to him moan."
Brunette: "Stephen's the same. He's always finding fault with what I do. If I dress up to go out to dinner with his friends, he complains that I make more effort for them than I ever do for him. He goes on about how maybe I find his friends more attractive than him. If I dress down, he whines that I don't care about him enough to take care with my appearance. Sometimes I feel I can't win."
Third woman: "So why is it that men always say women nag?"
Nagging Through the Ages
Historically, it has always been women who have been described as naggers. The verb "to nag" comes from the Scandinavian for "to gnaw, nibble or pick at something." In most dictionaries, a nag is a female noun with no male equivalent.
Until the nineteenth century, English, American and European laws allowed for a husband to complain to the magistrate about his wife's nagging or "scolding." If his case was found proved, his wife would be sentenced to the "Ducking Stool." The Ducking Stool was famously used in the USA and Britain to punish witches, prostitutes, minor offenders and scolds. The offending woman would be strapped into a seat, which hung from the end of a free-moving arm, and be dunked into the nearest river or lake for a predetermined length of time. The number of times she was submerged depended on the severity of the offense and/or the number of previous misdemeanors.
A British court record from A.D. 1592 reads--
. . . de wife of Walter Hycocks and the de wife of Peter Phillips are common scolds. Therefore it is ordered that they shall be told in church to stop their scolding. But, if their husbands or neighbors complain a second time, they shall be punished by the ducking stool.
The following poem by Benjamin West, published in 1780, shows how seriously men took nagging in past centuries--
The Ducking Stool
There stands, my friend, in yonder pool
An engine called the ducking stool;
By legal power commanded down
The joy and terror of the town.
If jarring females kindle strife,
Give language foul, or lug the coif,
If noisy dames should once begin
To drive the house with horrid din,
Away, you cry, you'll grace the stool;
We'll teach you how your tongue to rule.
The fair offender fills the seat
In sullen pomp, profoundly great;
Down in the deep the stool descends,
But here, at first, we miss our ends;
She mounts again and rages more
Than ever vixen did before.
So, throwing water on the fire
Will make it but burn up the higher.
If so, my friend, pray let her take
A second turn into the lake,
And, rather than your patience lose,
Thrice and again repeat the dose.
No brawling wives, no furious wenches,
No fire so hot but water quenches.
If the ducking stool wasn't considered punishment enough, there was even worse in store. Some women ended up being paraded around town, as a warning to other women, with an iron mask, "the branks," clamped onto their heads with a metal bar going into their mouths to hold the tongue down. The last woman to suffer the ducking stool after being convicted of being "a common scold" was Jenny Pipes from Leominster, England, in 1809.
How the Nagger Feels
The nagger always hopes their victim will be motivated into some positive action by being made to feel guilty. They hope he'll be spurred into action, if not by realizing he is in the wrong, then maybe simply to stop the tirade. Women know they nag, but that doesn't mean they enjoy it. Usually they're only doing it as a means to an end.
Some women have turned nagging into an art form. We have identified five basic nags--
The Single Subject Nag: "Kurt, how about taking out the trash?" A pause. "Kurt, you said you'd take out the trash." Another five minutes later. "What about that trash, Kurt? It's still sitting there."
The Multi-Nag: "The grass in front of the house looks a mess, Bob, the doorknob is falling off the bedroom door, and the back window is still stuck. When are you going to wash the car and . . ." etc., etc.
The Beneficial Nag: "Have you taken your pills today, Ray? And stop eating that pizza--it's bad for your cholesterol and weight . . ."
The Third-Party Nag: "Well, Moira says Shane has already got their BBQ cleaned out and they're having people over tomorrow. Summer will be finished at the rate you're going."
The Advance Nag: "Well, I hope you're going to watch your drinking tonight, Dale. We don't want a repeat of last year's fiasco."
Usually, women laugh hardest at these descriptions. They recognize themselves and their words, but still they see no real alternative.
When nagging gets out of hand, the nagger's relationships with others can really suffer. Men may ignore her even more, which will only fuel her irritation and, sometimes, rage. She may end up feeling alone and may become resentful and miserable. When it gets out of hand, it's been known to destroy relationships completely.
How the Victim Feels
From a male standpoint, nagging is a continual, indirect, negative reminder about the things he hasn't done, or about his shortcomings. It happens mainly at the end of the day when a man needs fire-gazing time.
The more the nagger nags, the more the victim retreats behind the kind of defensive barriers that drive the nagger crazy. These barriers include newspapers, computers, homework, a gloomy face, amnesia, apparent deafness and TV remote controls. No one likes being on the receiving end of subdued rage, ambiguous messages, self-pity and blame or having guilt continually thrust at them. Everyone avoids the nagger, leaving her alone and feeling resentful. When she starts feeling even more trapped, unrecognized and isolated, the victim may suffer even more.
The more the nagger nags, the more isolated she becomes.
The only real outcome from nagging is the destruction of the relationship between the nagger and the victim because the victim feels he has to continually defend himself.
Why Do Women Make Better Naggers?
Most women have the brain organization to out-talk and out-nag any man on the planet. The illustrations that follow are created from brain scans of fifty men and fifty women, showing the active areas of the brain (in black) that are used for speech and language. It's a graphic image of men and women talking and communicating with each other.
The shaded areas are used for speech and language function. You can clearly see women have far greater capacity for talking than men. This explains why, from a woman's standpoint, men don't say much and, from a man's standpoint, women never seem to shut up.
A female brain is organized for multitracking--she can juggle four or five balls in the air at the same time. She can run a computer program while talking on the telephone plus listen to a second conversation behind her, all the time drinking a cup of coffee. She can talk about several unrelated topics in the one conversation and uses five vocal tones to change the subject or emphasize points. Men can identify only three of those tones. As a result, men often lose the plot when listening to women talk.
Multitracking can even occur in a single sentence--
Bill: "Is Sue coming over for Christmas?"
Debbie: "Sue said she'll come depending on how things go with carpet orders which have slowed down because of the economy and Fiona may not come because Andrew has to see a specialist and Nathan has lost his job too so he has to get a new one and Jodi can't get time off work--her boss is so tough!--so Sue said she could come down early and we could go dress shopping for Emma's wedding and I thought that if we put her and Len in the guest bedroom we could ask Ray to arrive early so . . ."
Bill: "Does that mean 'yes' or 'no'?"
Debbie: "Well, it also depends on whether Diana's boss Adrian will give her time off work because his car is off the road and she has to . . ." etc., etc. . . .
Bill thought he had asked a simple question and he would have been happy with a simple answer like "yes" or "no." Instead, he got a multitracked answer involving nine different subjects and eleven people. He feels frustrated and goes outside to water the garden.
Male brains are organized for monotracking. They can only concentrate on one thing at a time. When a man opens a map, he turns the radio off. If she talks with him when he's driving on a rotary, he'll miss his exit and then blame her because she was talking. When a telephone rings he asks everyone to be quiet so he can answer it. For some men, often in the most powerful positions, it can even prove hard to walk and chew gum at the same time.
Men's brains are monotracked. They can't make love and answer questions on why they haven't taken out the garbage at the same time.
One of the big problems for men is when multitracking happens during the nagging process. It's all too much for him so he simply shuts off. This goes on to begin a vicious cycle of the nagger increasing her volume and the strength of her accusations or claim to entitlement while the victim retreats further behind his barrier, often to the point of putting physical distance between himself and the nagger. Leaving the scene may not always be possible and the pressure will build up to a point where the victim will strike back resulting in a bitter argument. Sometimes that could even spill over into physical violence.
Excerpted from Why Men Don't Have a Clue and Women Always Need More Shoes by Barbara and Allan Pease. Copyright © 2004 by Barbara and Allan Pease. Excerpted by permission of Harmony, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.