In the English language, the word shrew is used to describe a woman given to violent, scolding, particularly nagging treatment, as in Shakespeare's play The Taming of the Shrew. The animals of the same name were believed historically to behave aggressively and with cruelty, and to have a venomous bite; the term "shrew" was then applied first to a person of either sex thought to have a similar disposition, then to women alone.
Being a shrew or a scold was once a petty criminal offense in much of Europe and in colonial New England during the 17th and 18th centuries. Punishments varied by region, but were usually meant to humiliate the guilty party. Punishments included the imposition of the cucking stool, pillory, jougs, a shrew's fiddle, or a scold's bridle. Nevertheless shrew was a term which could be applied with different degrees of reprobation, and one early modern proverb allowed that "a shrew profitable may serve a man reasonable".