Sunday, September 19, 2004

Etymology of Genital Slang

A few days ago, I posted the etymological background of two of the most common derisive (and misogynistic) slang words based upon female genitalia but having meanings varying from "weak" to "bitch" (and not in the female empowerment, Meredith Brooks use of the word).

I am relatively new to the blogosphere and therefore trying to play a bit of catch up. For more information on the use of this slang and its appropriateness (as in, it's not), I highly recommend stopping by Des Femmes’ excellent site. There's also a comprehensive debate going on in the comment section at Body and Soul in response to the article Bitches and pussies.

My original post:

From the Online Etymology Dictionary:

Pussy: 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.

Cunt: "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. 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." 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]