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This is from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. Here is the link to the source: https://www.sparknotes.com/nofear/lit/huckfinn/chapter-5/

AIN’T you a sweet-scented dandy, though? A bed; and bedclothes; and a look’n’-glass; and a piece of carpet on the floor—and your own father got to sleep with the hogs in the tanyard. I never see such a son. I bet I’ll take some o’ these frills out o’ you before I’m done with you. Why, there ain’t no end to your airs—they say you’re rich.

This is the modernized version:

“Ain’t you a sweet smelling little sissy. You’ve got a bed. And sheets. And a mirror and a rug on the floor. You’ve got all that while your father sleeps with the pigs in the tanyard. I never saw such a son. I bet I can beat some of this fanciness out of you before I’m done. And that’s not all. They say you’re rich. How’d that happen?”

My question is, why is "dandy" replaced to "sissy"? "Dandy" means "concerned about styles and look", but "sissy" means "a coward".

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Remember that the "modernised" version is for native speaking children.

The reason why it was changed is that "dandy" is now a rather rare word, and is not as familiar to children as "sissy". The word "sissy" is a playground word. It isn't common in adult speech, it is more often used by or of children.

There isn't really a word in modern English that carries the same meaning as "dandy" would to a nineteenth century reader. Even the word "dandy" has changed meaning in context over the years. So whatever word the moderniser used, something would be lost - even if the modernizer kept "dandy".

The implication of "dandy" is not just someone who wears nice clothes, but someone who is overly concerned with clothing in a way that is not "masculine" (from a 19th century point of view - notions about what is masculine and what is feminine have changed!). It is someone who is "effeminate". It is someone who isn't "tough".

The word "dandy" is being used as an insult - to describe someone who isn't tough enough.

So "sissy" misses out on the aspect of dandy about clothes, but it matches the sense in which "dandy" is being used as an insult. Both "dandy" and "sissy" in context imply "someone who isn't tough enough". But this meaning of "sissy" would be better understood by a child.

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Well, "sissy" doesn't just mean "coward", it also means "effeminate".

Merriam-Webster says:

an effeminate man or boy

Whereas for "dandy" it says:

a man who gives exaggerated attention to personal appearance

And Wikipedia says this of "sissy" (emphasis added):

A man might also be considered a sissy for being interested in traditionally feminine hobbies or employment (e.g., being fond of fashion), displaying effeminate behavior (e.g., using hair products, hydrating products, or displaying limp wrists), being unathletic, or being homosexual.

So, "sissy" is not really so far from "dandy": a man who is excessively fond of fashion can be considered effeminate, and labelled as "sissy" for that reason.

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  • A dandy could also be a fop, I think. Commented Mar 8, 2022 at 15:36

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