vixen

noun

vix·​en ˈvik-sən How to pronounce vixen (audio)
1
: a female fox
2
: a shrewish, ill-tempered woman
When Arabella called her a treacherous vixen and a heartless, profligate hussy, she spoke out freely, and said that she wasn't going to be abused. Anthony Trollope
3
informal : a sexually attractive woman
In this spy spoof, our hero, aided by a sexy vixen, … saves the world from a power-mad despot … Steven Rebello
vixenish adjective

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Vixens and Foxes

Vixen literally refers to a female fox, but it has two very distinctive extended meanings: “a shrew” and “a sexy woman.” How is it that the word took such semantically divergent paths?

The “combative, bad-tempered woman” sense has a very long history in our language, going back as far as the 16th century and extending well into the 20th. It may be found in Shakespeare and Swift as well as in latter-day descriptions of mothers-in-law and the names of gun boats. By mid-century, however, vixen begins to be used of glamorous and attractive women. Perhaps its application to female characters who combined combative and seductive qualities led to the word's reinterpretation. Or perhaps it was influenced by fox, another term for an attractive young woman that made its appearance in English around this time.

Example Sentences

why anyone puts up with that vixen's sharp tongue is beyond me
Recent Examples on the Web To further drive home the vixen aesthetic, Ratajkowski opted for a bold red lip. Vogue, 31 Oct. 2022 Bella Hadid's latest on-duty look is perfect for a video vixen. Quinci Legardye, Harper's BAZAAR, 27 Aug. 2022 For Hailey, this also means more smoky eyes, extended liners, and makeup that flows between sultry vixen and casual-chic boss lady. Martine Thompson, Harper's BAZAAR, 27 July 2022 Niemann chose her business' name — vixen meaning both female fox and a spirited woman — to reflect her connection to the natural world and her own attitude. Carol Deptolla, Journal Sentinel, 21 July 2022 Lily James just added a new character to her repertoire: Versace vixen! Hedy Phillips, PEOPLE.com, 13 July 2022 Huerta has also taken to TikTok to share her video vixen experience, racking up more than 900,000 views. Maria Poggi, Rolling Stone, 21 May 2022 There might not be a bigger story in U.S. track than 100-meter dash vixen Sha’Carri Richardson. Brian Metzler, Outside Online, 22 June 2022 The lack of identification means the vixen could be anyone everyone. Maria Poggi, Rolling Stone, 21 May 2022 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'vixen.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Word History

Etymology

Middle English (southern dialect) *vixen, alteration of Middle English fixen, from Old English fyxe, feminine of fox

First Known Use

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of vixen was in the 15th century

Cite this Entry

“Vixen.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/vixen. Accessed 28 Nov. 2022.

Kids Definition

vixen

noun

vix·​en ˈvik-sən How to pronounce vixen (audio)
: a female fox

More from Merriam-Webster on vixen

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