Inspired by some of the discussion on the What Are We Reading? thread. I'm posting some terms that have been mentioned here before as seeming out of place in a historical, & their etymology. Some of them might be surprising:P Just an advance warning, some of these words are considered sexually explicit terms, and may offend some people. If you find explicit language offensive, please don't read any further. I don't want to offend or upset anyone, I just find etymology an extremely interesting topic, and since it comes up from time to time in the context of discussion of historicals, I though it would be an interesting topic here. This isn't about having fun with profanity - it's about correct language use in literature. I'm posting a few of the terms that seem to come up most often, and if anyone can think of any, or if you run across any you're unsure about, post them & I'll look them up & post the entymology for you. Oh... and they don't have to be about sex:P
Here we go:
1589, from L.L. climax (gen. climacis), from Gk. klimax "propositions rising in effectiveness," lit. "ladder," from base of klinein "to slope," from PIE base *klei- "to lean" (see lean (v.)). The rhetorical meaning evolved in Eng. through "series of steps by which a goal is achieved," to "escalating steps," to (1789) "high point," a usage credited by the OED "to popular ignorance." The verb is 1835, from the noun. The meaning "orgasm" is first recorded 1918, apparently coined by birth-control pioneer Marie Stopes, as a more accessible word than orgasm.
O.E. cocc, O.Fr. coq, O.N. kokkr, all of echoic origin. O.E. cocc was a nickname for "one who strutted like a cock," thus a common term in the Middle Ages for a pert boy, used of scullions, apprentices, servants, etc. A common personal name till c.1500, it was affixed to Christian names as a pet diminutive, cf. Wilcox, Hitchcock, etc. Slang sense of "penis" is attested since 1618 (but cf. pillicock "penis," from c.1300). Cock-teaser is from 1891. Cock-sucker is used curiously for aggressively obnoxious men; the ancients would have understood the difference between passive and active roles; Catullus, writing of his boss, employs the useful L. insult irrumator, which means "someone who forces others to give him oral sex," hence "one who treats people with contempt." Cocky "arrogantly pert" (1768) originally meant "lecherous" (16c.); modern sense of "vain" is 18c. A cocker spaniel (1823) was trained to start woodcocks. Cock-and-bull is first recorded 1621, perhaps an allusion to Aesop's fables, with their incredible talking animals, or to a particular story, now forgotten. Fr. has parallel expression coq-à-l'âne.
"female intercrural foramen," or, as some 18c. writers refer to it, "the monosyllable," M.E. cunte "female genitalia," akin to O.N. kunta, from P.Gmc. *kunton, of uncertain origin. Some suggest a link with L. cuneus "wedge," others to PIE base *geu- "hollow place," still others to PIE *gwen-, root of queen and Gk. gyne "woman." The form is similar to L. cunnus "female pudenda," which is likewise of disputed origin, perhaps lit. "gash, slit," from PIE *sker- "to cut," or lit. "sheath," from PIE *kut-no-, from base *(s)keu- "to conceal, hide." First known reference in Eng. is said to be c.1230 Oxford or London street name Gropecuntlane, presumably a haunt of prostitutes. Avoided in public speech since 15c.; considered obscene since 17c. Du. cognate de kont means "a bottom, an arse." Du. also has attractive poetic slang ways of expressing this part, such as liefdesgrot, lit. "cave of love," and vleesroos "rose of flesh." Alternate form cunny is attested from c.1720 but is certainly much earlier and forced a change in the pronunciation of coney (q.v.), but it was good for a pun while coney was still the common word for "rabbit": "A pox upon your Christian cockatrices! They cry, like poulterers' wives, 'No money, no coney.' " [Massinger, 1622]
"the face," 1890, slang, from Ir. pus "lip, mouth."
"cat," 1726, dim. of puss (1), also used of a rabbit (1715). As a term of endearment for a girl or woman, from 1583 (also used of effeminate men). Pussy willow is from 1869, on notion of "soft and furry;" pussyfoot (v.) is from 1903, originally the nickname of stealthy Oklahoma prohibition agent W.E. Johnson (1862-1945).
slang for "cunt," 1879, but probably older; perhaps from O.N. puss "pocket, pouch" (cf. Low Ger. puse "vulva"), but perhaps instead from the cat word (see pussy (1)) on notion of "soft, warm, furry thing;" cf. Fr. le chat, which also has a double meaning, feline and genital. Earlier uses are difficult to distinguish from pussy (1), e.g.:
"The word pussie is now used of a woman" [Philip Stubbes, "The Anatomie of Abuses," 1583]
But the use of pussy as a term of endearment argues against the vaginal sense being generally known before late 19c., e.g.:
" 'What do you think, pussy?' said her father to Eva." [Harriet Beecher Stowe, "Uncle Tom's Cabin," 1852]
Pussy-whipped first attested 1956.
fuck - A difficult word to trace, in part because it was taboo to the editors of the original OED when the "F" volume was compiled, 1893-97. Written form only attested from early 16c. OED 2nd edition cites 1503, in the form fukkit; earliest appearance of current spelling is 1535 -- "Bischops ... may fuck thair fill and be vnmaryit" [Sir David Lyndesay, "Ane Satyre of the Thrie Estaits"], but presumably it is a much more ancient word than that, simply one that wasn't likely to be written in the kind of texts that have survived from O.E. and M.E. Buck cites proper name John le Fucker from 1278. The word apparently is hinted at in a scurrilous 15c. poem, titled "Flen flyys," written in bastard L. and M.E. The relevant line reads:
Non sunt in celi
quia fuccant uuiuys of heli
"They [the monks] are not in heaven because they fuck the wives of Ely." Fuccant is pseudo-L., and in the original it is written in cipher. The earliest examples of the word otherwise are from Scottish, which suggests a Scandinavian origin, perhaps from a word akin to Norw. dial. fukka "copulate," or Swedish dial. focka "copulate, strike, push," and fock "penis." Another theory traces it to M.E. fkye, fike "move restlessly, fidget," which also meant "dally, flirt," and probably is from a general North Sea Gmc. word, cf. M.Du. fokken, Ger. ficken "fuck," earlier "make quick movements to and fro, flick," still earlier "itch, scratch;" the vulgar sense attested from 16c. This would parallel in sense the usual M.E. slang term for "have sexual intercourse," swive, from O.E. swifan "to move lightly over, sweep" (see swivel). Chronology and phonology rule out Shipley's attempt to derive it from M.E. firk "to press hard, beat." As a noun, it dates from 1680. French foutre and Italian fottere look like the Eng. word but are unrelated, derived rather from L. futuere, which is perhaps from PIE base *bhau(t)- "knock, strike off," extended via a figurative use "from the sexual application of violent action" [Shipley; cf. the sexual slang use of bang, etc.]. Popular and Internet derivations from acronyms (and the "pluck yew" fable) are merely ingenious trifling. The O.E. word was hæman, from ham "dwelling, home," with a sense of "take home, co-habit." Fuck was outlawed in print in England (by the Obscene Publications Act, 1857) and the U.S. (by the Comstock Act, 1873). The word may have been shunned in print, but it continued in conversation, especially among soldiers during WWI.
"It became so common that an effective way for the soldier to express this emotion was to omit this word. Thus if a sergeant said, 'Get your ----ing rifles!' it was understood as a matter of routine. But if he said 'Get your rifles!' there was an immediate implication of urgency and danger." [John Brophy, "Songs and Slang of the British Soldier: 1914-1918," pub. 1930]
The legal barriers broke down in the 20th century, with the "Ulysses" decision (U.S., 1933) and "Lady Chatterley's Lover" (U.S., 1959; U.K., 1960). Johnson excluded the word, and fuck wasn't in a single English language dictionary from 1795 to 1965. "The Penguin Dictionary" broke the taboo in the latter year. Houghton Mifflin followed, in 1969, with "The American Heritage Dictionary," but it also published a "Clean Green" edition without the word, to assure itself access to the lucrative public high school market. The abbreviation F (or eff) probably began as euphemistic, but by 1943 it was being used as a cuss word, too. In 1948, the publishers of "The Naked and the Dead" persuaded Norman Mailer to use the euphemism fug instead. When Mailer later was introduced to Dorothy Parker, she greeted him with, "So you're the man who can't spell 'fuck' " [The quip sometimes is attributed to Tallulah Bankhead]. Hemingway used muck in "For whom the Bell Tolls" (1940). The major breakthrough in publication was James Jones' "From Here to Eternity" (1950), with 50 fucks (down from 258 in the original manuscript). Egyptian legal agreements from the 23rd Dynasty (749-21 B.C.E.) frequently include the phrase, "If you do not obey this decree, may a donkey copulate with you!" [Reinhold Aman, "Maledicta," Summer 1977]. Intensive form mother-fucker suggested from 1928; motherfucking is from 1933. Fuck-all "nothing" first recorded 1960. Verbal phrase fuck up "to ruin, spoil, destroy" first attested c.1916. A widespread group of Slavic words (cf. Pol. pierdolić) can mean both "fornicate" and "make a mistake." Flying fuck originally meant "have sex on horseback" and is first attested c.1800 in broadside ballad "New Feats of Horsemanship." For the unkillable urban legend that this word is an acronym of some sort (a fiction traceable on the Internet to 1995 but probably predating that) see here, and also here.
1684, from Fr. orgasme, from Gk. orgasmos "excitement, swelling," from organ "be in heat, become ripe for," lit. "to swell, be excited," related to orge "impulse, excitement, anger," from PIE base *wrog- "to burgeon, swell with strength" (cf. Skt. urja "a nourishment, sap, vigor," O.Ir. ferc, ferg "anger"). The verb is attested from 1973, originally and usually in ref. to a woman's sexual climax. Orgasmic is attested from 1935.
If you can think of any other words & slang terms you'd like to know the origin & first recorded usage of, post away.
Last Edited on: 12/4/08 6:32 AM ET - Total times edited: 3