colder than a witch's tit

Wilson Gray wilson.gray at RCN.COM
Thu Apr 7 02:53:17 UTC 2005

On Apr 5, 2005, at 11:30 PM, Douglas G. Wilson wrote:

> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       "Douglas G. Wilson" <douglas at NB.NET>
> Subject:      Re: colder than a witch's tit
> -----------------------------------------------------------------------
> --------
> Larry Horn:
>> "boner" was the first word I recall for "erection", at least in
>> colloquial speech, and that would have been maybe 1957 or '58.
> Me too, and about the same time.
> By the mid-1960's, IIRC, the word "boner" for an erection seemed to me
> rather juvenile, probably because I'd seen "hard-on" etc. (but not
> "boner")
> in, uh, literature. However, I've heard this "boner" used routinely
> until
> the present day by adults ... but I guess it still strikes me as
> somewhat
> of a youngsters' word. Maybe it had a juvenile sound to others too,
> which
> kept it from print?
> -- Doug Wilson

So you guys became familiar with "boner" perhaps as early as 1957,
whereas it wasn't until 1969 that I first heard it. Whoa! That's a
difference of twelve years! Has anyone ever tried to trace the movement
of an idiom through a population?

WRT to "hard-on," the Dutch linguist, Hendrik "Henk" van Riemsdijk,
pointed out over a quarter-century ago that the original formation was
simply "a hard" and that "hard(-)on" is derived from a misanalysis of
phrases such as "have a _hard_ on" or "get a _hard_ on." I myself also
learned "hard(-)on" through reading uh-literature, to borrow Doug's
felicitous phrase. In the BE of my adolescence and youth, ca.1945-1965,
the corresponding phrases were "be on hard" and "get on hard." The
turns of phrase "have a hard on" and "get a hard on" were unused and

Oddly, though "be on the bone" and "get on the bone" were also used,
they didn't give rise to the term "boner."

-Wilson Gray

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