FW: the oldest surviving slang

Frank Abate abatefr at EARTHLINK.NET
Wed Jul 3 21:11:30 UTC 2002

What Dennis and Bethany say below is a perfect lead-in to something I have
been wondering about for a long time:

On Tue, 2 Jul 2002, Dennis R. Preston wrote:

>What does 'sexual intercourse' mean? I always took it to be the kinda
>formal equivalent of 'fuck.'

Ask Bill.



When Pres. Clinton said, during a press conference, "I did not have sexual
relations with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky," his choice of words struck me as
very peculiar.  It seemed to me that the sentence was much too exact.
Figuring he and his staff had carefully prepared the wording of the
statement, I wondered whether there was some lawyerly motivation.  I betook
myself to the MW3 Unabridged, which (as I understand it) is taken as
definitive for American English in US courts of law.  Sure enough, "sexual
relations" is defined as 'coitus'.  So Clinton was telling the truth, if the
later findings of the Starr report are to be believed -- no coitus, just
oral sex.  But if he had said "sex", he would have been lying, by the common
understanding of the term.

MW3 def of coitus:  "physical union of male and female genitalia accompanied
by rhythmic movements leading to the ejaculation of semen from the penis
into the female reproductive tract;  also   : INTERCOURSE 3 —  compare

whereas the MW3 sense 3 of "sex" is: "3 : the sphere of interpersonal
behavior especially between male and female most directly associated with,
leading up to, substituting for, or resulting from genital union *agree that
the Christian's attitude toward sex should not be considered apart from
love, marriage, family— M.M.Forney*"

The phrase "substituting for" would have made Clinton a liar, in the eyes of
most (including lawyers).

While we're on the subject, I must share with you all the sense 2 of "sex"
in MW3.  Please note the technical precision (dare I say preciosity) and
absolute unsexiness:

"2 : the sum of the morphological, physiological, and behavioral
peculiarities of living beings that subserves biparental reproduction with
its concomitant genetic segregation and recombination which underlie most
evolutionary change, that in its typical dichotomous occurrence is usually
genetically controlled and associated with special sex chromosomes, and that
is typically manifested as maleness and femaleness with one or the other of
these being present in most higher animals though both may occur in the same
individual in many plants and some invertebrates and though no such
distinctions can be made in many lower forms (as some fungi, protozoans, and
possibly bacteria and viruses) either because males and females are replaced
by mating types or because the participants in sexual reproduction are

Frank Abate

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