I recently found this example sentence in Oxford English Dictionary:

the unowned anger of all the smiling females of unenlightened times

I had difficulty interpreting the meaning of this sentence because of the adjective "smiling". It seems to me that this sentence is using some sort of pun for this adjective not its literal meaning. The sentence contains two contradicting feelings of the females in unenlightened times, one suggests that they're happy while the other implies they're angry.

So how should the adjective smiling and generally the sentence be interpreted in this context?

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    The text is from the feminist novel 'The Dark Sister' by Rebecca Goldstein, which has been described by the New York Times as 'a wicked satire on feminist fiction'. A central part of feminist thought is that women have historically been expected (and socialised) to smile and pretend to be happy, even while they are simultaneously angry about being oppressed by men. Apr 6 at 8:00
  • @MichaelHarvey, thank you! I got the answer now.
    – Tran Khanh
    Apr 6 at 8:46
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    I’m voting to close this question because the question is unanswerable from the extract. You should not expect to get context in a short extract. This question is unanswerable unless (like Michael) you look for the original source. The meaning is deliberately oxymoronic.
    – James K
    Apr 6 at 10:51
  • Did you look up the words owned and unowned for possible meanings? That, I think, would be key to understanding the phrase on a basic level. Your question doesn't address that word.
    – TimR
    Apr 6 at 11:22
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    Side note: We say "I had difficulty"
    – TimR
    Apr 6 at 11:27

1 Answer 1


A "smiling female" is literally a female who is smiling. Dictionary definition.

The only thing the wider context tells you is that the smiles are false. The women apparently have "unowned anger". In psychology, "unowned" emotions means not fully acknowledged or integrated into the conscious awareness or identity. It is like suppressed anger. So they are outwardly smiling, but inside they have unresolved anger.

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