10 February, 2006

Conrad's bawdy

How about a few naughty etymologies?


Reconstructed from ME coit, Fr. coït, L. coetus, coitus (the latter app. by metonymic assimilation to co-īre, co-itus), a. Gr. κοιτη, 'bed'. Evidently subject before assimilation to taboo replacement by L. cētus, a. Gr. κητος, 'sea monster'; compare Rabelais, Gargant. ch. iii, 'la beste à deux dos'. Subsequent monosyllabic shift in ME influenced by quoit; for semantic association compare quoit in Australian slang, 'buttocks', and L. anus, 'ring' and later, 'arsehole'.


No connexion with Fr. con, L. cunnis, 'vagina', nor with L. cuneus, 'wedge'. Rather from a dialectal pron. of can't (cannot): an error arose among ME writers from an anonymous late-medieval vernacular translation of the Goliardic verse Venus et Caecus (ca. 1150): "Cunne tha see't, Cecus / cunne tha name it me? / Ay cunnet, ay cunt quod he." The misreading became popular among satirists keen to connect the pudendum with male impotence; but see pussy.


Earlier puisance (pron. with nuisance) from Fr. puissance, L. potentia, 'power', though later influenced by imitative E. puss, 'cat', 'fur garment'. For the association of the pudendum with female potency, see cunt.


There is much conjecture concerning this obscure vulgarism, the vowel-colour of which has recently shifted from (å) to (æ) by analogy with 'shat', 'fat', etc. Earliest attestation as touate in Nashe (1594), perh. as cant; following a suggestion in Vossius (1606), we are inclined to derive the term from Fr. touatte, 'cavernous recess, hollow', either via its Gmc. cognate Tot, 'underworld, Hell', later 'death', or directly from L. Tuata, a. Gr. Τυάτη, 'Egyptian underworld' (attested in Plut., Peri Isidos, iv.1) from ancient Egyptian Twt.

1 comment:

Siganus Sutor said...

So pussy would come from the French word puissance? Well sexual puissance (or impuissance) is usually a male attribute, but why not consider the pussy power after all. "Later influenced by imitative E. puss, 'cat'"? If such is the case, it could be highlighted that in French the vulgar expression "la chatte" (same word as female cat) is... the vagina. So, who influenced whom in that respect? (Incidentally, TLFi says that the word chatte, with this acceptation, might have been influenced by the word chas>, i.e. the eye of a needle — cf. the Bible story of the camel going through the hole of a needle.)

An interaction between English and French might also lie in the word "fanny". According to etymonline.com, fanny was the vulva before becoming the buttocks. Strange enough, in the game of pétanque those who loose without scoring a single point are supposed to "kiss Fanny" (embrasser Fanny), i.e. kiss the naked buttocks of a girl carved on the wall.