"puss" in Icelandic ? Swedish ?

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM
Sat Aug 20 11:33:01 UTC 2005

Many thanks, Doug. I will assume provisionally that Serenius was thinking of English. The entry does not appear in the first ed. of 1734.

If Modern Ice. "pussa" is from English, one would expect it to be regarded as "slang" or "vulgar," or whatever. Is it ?  Moreover, the only *likely* English-Icelandic vectors would be anglophone tourists, making it a very recent import.

None of this is terribly relevant to the question at hand, but if English "puss / pussy" goes back to the ninth or tenth century, one might expect some kind of evidence before ca1700, when the meanings "cat, hare, spiteful or unpredictable woman" were all quite common.


"Douglas G. Wilson" <douglas at NB.NET> wrote:
---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
Sender: American Dialect Society
Poster: "Douglas G. Wilson"
Subject: Re: "puss" in Icelandic ? Swedish ?

>Jakob Serenius's monumental English, Swedish & Latin Dictionary (ed. 2)
>of 1757 includes a bottom of the page entry "PUSS, _pudendum muliebre_."
>It is not absolutely clear to me whether this word is supposed to be
>Swedish, English, or even Icelandic, though the last seems most likely.
>The Net is no help. Anybody with native fluency in 18th C. Scandinavian
>languages should be able to answer this one.
>If it *is* Icelandic, or even Swedish, it would tend to support
>Merriam-Webster's suggestion that English "puss / pussy" really is
>etymologically distinct from Eng. "pussy," hare or cat.
>The word is used sexually in English as early as 1699.

On-line dictionaries show "púss" = "pouch"/ "small bag" in Old Icelandic
and a similar word in 'Altnordisch' (same as Old Norse?). I suppose this is
cognate with English "purse". The vowel is, I think, distinct from "u"
FWIW. Relevant? I don't know.

One on-line dictionary shows modern Icelandic "pussa" = "vulva". This is
surely the right word but I think there's been plenty of time for adoption
from English.

The big Swedish Academy dictionary on-line shows only the routine "puss" =
"kiss" and "puss" = "puddle" etc. and "puss" as a variant of "puts" =
"prank" (if I'm reading it right). I doubt that these are germane.

-- Doug Wilson

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