There's a word we keep seeing in the news of late, a word it seems like we weren't supposed to say in mixed company, much less in "family" newspapers. Now it's everywhere—or, at least, in way more places than it used to be.

Today, we get Michael Goodwin's piece in The New York Post headlined "Press Pussies Soft on O." Goodwin is talking, or more accurately, ranting, about how he feels a "lackey from the Associated Press" represents an overall trend in not questioning President Obama, a trend, as his piece so loudly announces from its headline, of "pussiness." Pussies! They're all pussies!, you can imagine him bellowing as he types on his IBM Selectric, fingers beating doggedly in hard-boiled fashion against the keys. The opposite of anything courageous and strong and (the subtext goes) manly, is what he's talking about: Press pussies.

Prior to this use, the most immediate and frequent way "pussy" had found its way onto our newspapers and computer screens had been with regard to another kind of talk of another kind of pussies. Pussy Riot, of course, the Russian punk band found guilty of "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred" for the 40-second anti-government protest they held in a church and for which they were punished with two-year jail sentences by the Russian government. These are the members of a punk band who, aware of the word's vulgar connotations in English, took it and paired it with the word riot to create tension. That's a punk thing to do, and it reclaims the cowardly, stereotypically wimpy and female insinuation of "pussy" that is, essentially, what Goodwin harks back to. Appropriately, they "laughed and rolled their eyes as the sentences were read"—not "pussy" at all, actually. And in Russia, editors are tough enough to call them Pussies.

By being news, though, Pussy Riot brought the word to all sorts of media venues that would have been far too demure to print it otherwise. And there was even some debate about how they did print the words. The New York Timesas The New York Observer's Foster Kamer noted on Friday, had previously been charged with being too pussy to use the word. With Pussy Riot, no longer! (In fact, though, the word had previously been printed as part of a restaurant's name, as part of a truly obscenity-laced album review, as a part of movie titles where it happens to appear, and of course as the plant and, we're pretty sure, cats. Unsurprisingly, we can find no use of the term as used by Goodwin in The Post.) The point is, though, that facts are facts, and you can't ignore them, or, you shouldn't, simply because the word might have a certain connotation. That doesn't mean some won't be pussies: On The Today Show, according to The Guardian's Amanda Holpuch, presenter Michelle Kosinski said, with regard to the story, "the punk rock girl band, whose name we can't say on morning television."

One of the common concerns that comes up with words and phrases is that something that once had the power to offend or shock has lost that ability. It's that sort of feeling we lend to a discussion of the "f-word" or other vulgarities—what if curse words mean nothing? If that happens, does it mean that we have become impervious to what we once considered bad, and therefore, are immoral or maybe worse, just numb ourselves? When we dare to make the word equivalent of a wardrobe-malfunction not only part of daily life, but something we don't even bother to look away from, are we hopelessly lost? We tend not to look on the bright side about this, for some reason, which is that the meanings of words are always changing. If the "bad" or "vulgar" edge to a word goes away, maybe we've actually made some progress.

The word pussy, way back in its reported first use or uses in 1726, meant either "cat" or "a catkin of the pussy willow," per Merriam-Webster. Since then any number of additional definitions have sprung up, from vulgar to belittling to sexist (a "cowardly man," for instance) to the horrifying, circa 1890 meaning, "full of or resembling pus," as in, "a pussy wound." With Pussy Riot, we get it as the subject of a news story, yes, but the frequency with which a word meets our ears and eyes means it becomes ever the more acceptable, somehow, or ground into our psyche, and certainly less cover-your-mouth-and-gasp-worthy, which might be why Goodwin has gathered up the bravery to use it today. It still shocks a little, but not as much as it might have in the past.

It's not the word's fault, either: A word is just a word, or, more appropriately, a string of letters, a vessel with which to convey meaning that humans have put upon it. (As Merriam-Webster's Peter Sokolowski told us, "Only dead languages are static.") That's good, because we're a little bit tired of the way in which Goodwin uses it, as related to "not masculine" behavior, not to mention the way in which the Internet tends to use it, as referring in an objectifying way to a female body part. If "pussy" could go back to being a word that means a plant, or a cat, primarily, and not something that brings frat-boy guffaws—or if it means something else entirely, maybe rebellion or standing up for rights or simply something punk—that would be a good thing.

One piece of this story remains missing, however, and it's a biggie: What about the cats? Can anyone speak for the cats? Oh, here we go