an old dirty monosyllable from an odd source

Wed May 19 21:20:08 UTC 1999

        The old monosyllables referring to certain body parts and functions
fell into disrepute many centuries ago and until recent times rarely
appeared in print, though they must have remained a staple of (some
folk's) conversation.  This note points out an appearance of one of
them, the one known to students of slang as The Monosyllable, in a
schoolboy's dictionary of ca. 1900.

        Many years ago I bought in a used book store the Handy Dictionary of
the Latin and English Languages, a 400 pp. (198 & 212 pp.)
pocket-sized bilingual dictionary, obviously not a book for scholars,
giving a few very brief equivalents of each word in the other
language.  The book was published by David McKay, of Philadelphia,
and is undated.  As will be noted, McKay was active at least into the
1960s, but the company was active as early as the beginning of this
century, and the book was in print, though from F. A. Stokes of New
York, as early as 1902, according to the United States Catalog.  It
seems to have been to work of J. E. Wessely, (Ignatz Emanuel Wessely,
1841-1900) whose French-, German-, Italian-, and Spanish-English
dictionaries were orignally published by Tauchnitz, of Leipzig and
reprinted in England and the U. S.  He is not named on the
title-page, though his other dictionaries are advertised on the
facing page.

        In any event, in the Latin-English half of the book we find the
entry "cunnus, -i, m. cunt, strumpet."  The word "cunt" does not
appear in the English-Latin half.  My grasp of Latin obscenities is
not great.  The word "stercus" is defined as "dung, excrement,
ordure".  If anyone has any other favorites, I will check them.  I
have not seen Wessely's dictionaries of modern languages and so do
not know whether they offer any words of similar appeal.

        The library at NYU has a revision of this work, with S. C.
Woodhouse's name on the title page.  Our copy was published by David
McKay in 1962.  The word "cunnus" does not appear.

        According to RHHDAS, "cunt" appeared in this physiological sense in
American sources in 1748, 1778, 1888 (in what seems to be a
pornographic work), and 1919 (T. Dreiser's diaries, unpublished at
the time).  It does not have it used in the U. S. in its rhetorical
senses before 1916.  The OED finds it in c1800 (Burn's Merry Muses),
1888-94 (My Secret Life, not published), 1934 (Tropic of Cancer) and
1956 (Samuel Beckett, Malone Dies).  Both the latter would have been
published in France.

George A. Thompson

More information about the Ads-l mailing list