Magazine article Verbatim

As the Word Turns: Another Grose-Out

Magazine article Verbatim

As the Word Turns: Another Grose-Out

Article excerpt

"With the genitalia the exigencies of taboo mean that slang has the cover-up role of euphemism to perform"--John Atyo, The Oxford Dictionary of Rhyming Slang (2002).

Having inventoried (XXVII/2) male and female organs in Grose's Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1785), I import the idioms for their copulation. All quoted definitions are his.

There are at least thirty. Grose would have chuckled over the American toponym intercourse. Some were antique, e.g., Chaucer's swyve, which died out c. 1800, also make the beast with two backs (cited from Othello), laughably indexed thus in R. W. Holder's How Not To Say What You Mean: A Dictionary of Euphemisms (2002): "See BEAST WITH TWO BACKS (THE)."

Another now-overlooked Shakespearianism was occupy, an "odious word" in Henry IV, pt 1, II.4.159, thereafter avoided in seventeenth and eighteenth-century literature; cf. C. T. Onions, A Shakespeare Glossary (1911).

Some supposed modernisms have a long pedigree. No bonk, of course, this being pre-Boris Becker. No knee-trembler: whores specialising in them were threepenny-uprights, also absent from Eric Partridge's Dictionary of the Underworld (1950), where kneeling at the altar gets in as pederasty. No rumpy-pumpy, either, though pump and rump had many nuances, including "buttocks." But hump is already there, denoted by Grose as old-fashioned, before its American renaissance. Niggle had a similar cis-Atlantic revival, though when was it last so used? Knock lives on, both in British knocking-shop and American knock-up, the latter famously validating Wilde's dictum of two countries separated by the same language.

Eighteenth-century gallants were already rogering, archly defined by Boswell's Yale editor Frederick Pottle as "a word of other meaning than that acquired since the introduction of radio-telephony," screwing (not in the original OED), and shagging, now spoiled by Austin Powers' association and muddied by its curious gamut of meanings from "carpet" to "school dance" to "strong tobacco," plus in old English public school argot it meant "masturbate," a social as well as sexual divide; according to Atyo, Melvyn Bragg (ubiquitous British TV cultural pundit--watch for his new book, English: Biography of a Language) now stands for shag--surely some cognate scope here for the likes of Alan Funt. …

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