"Cock" = rooster

Charles Doyle cdoyle at UGA.EDU
Wed Jul 5 18:29:28 UTC 2006

If I wished to argue with Jonathan--which, of course, I do
not--I might consider making the following points:

1. Shakespeare's line from Henry V, "Pistol's cock is up,
and flashing fire will follow," DOES have pointed sexual
implications.  The aged Pistol is newly wed to Mrs. Quickly,
whom he has won from Nym.  The dialog if full of
military/sexual double-entendres (Nym says, "I dare not
fight, but I will wink and hold out mine iron"), centering
on the issue of Pistol's potency or virility; that is the
context in which he boastfully utters the line about his

2. The OED's earliest instance of phallic "cock" is a line
from Amends for the Ladies . . . A Comedie (1618) by Nathan
Field (who also wrote a comedy whose title quotes the
proverb "A Woman Is a Weather-Cock"!):  "Oh man what art
thou? when thy cock is up?"  That, arguably, is the same
idiom, the same firearms metaphor that Shakespeare used--not
a punning image of the barnyard fowl at all (though still a
sexual metaphor).

3.  The matter of DATING for early plays is problematical.
A play was ordinarily performed earlier than its first
appearance in print--sometimes several years earlier--but
whether a given line would have been spoken from the stage
cannot be known, since plays may have been abbreviated for
acting (with ad hoc improvising possible) and then expanded
for publication.  In any case, the quoted line from
Shakespeare comes from the (posthumous) first folio of
1623.  In the first quarto (a "bad" one) of Henry V, 1600,
the corresponding line reads, “Pistolls flashing firy cock
is up.”

4.  HDAS quotes from the MED some occurrences of the
word "cok" as early evidence for "cock" meaning 'penis'. Yet
the compilers of the MED (who certainly were familiar with
the 15th-century lyric poem too, though they don't cite it
in the entry) regarded those same texts simply as instances
of "cock" meaning 'male fowl'; the MED has no entry
for "cok" in the sense of 'penis'.  Aside from questions
about naivete or squeamishness on the part of the MED (or
OED) compilers, might an important distinction here be the
concept of SLANG?  No doubt a slang dictionary SHOULD
include stock metaphors that the MED or OED deems not yet
fully evolved into standard denotative senses of a word that
epitomizes the metaphor.  I mean, the OED won't eventually
be obliged to subsume the entire contents of HDAS--will it?

5.  Two miscellaneous notes on "cock"/"up" constructions
(from EEBO):  {a.} ". . . Casting the bone in the same
manner in certain childish games called cock-up-all" (from
Thomas Ady, A Candle in the Dark [1655], p. 27); is there
other evidence for such a child's game?  {b.} "The Horse-
Race . . . Set to an Excellent Scotch Tune, Called, Cock Up
Thy Beaver" (Thomas D’Urfey, Choice New Songs [1684], p. 3);
no comment!


---- Original message ----
>Date: Wed, 5 Jul 2006 09:02:50 -0700
>From: Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM>
>Subject: Re: "Cock" = rooster
>I rejected the 1599 Shakespearean ex. from HDAS as an
illustrative citation, not because a phallic pun can be
entirely dismissed, but because the putative pun would be
entirely gratuitous.  The line makes perfect punning sense
without it and, IIRC, there are no sexual connotations to
the situation on stage.
>  No nocturnal-perching-in-my-lady's-chamber stuff.
>  JL
>Charles Doyle <cdoyle at UGA.EDU> wrote:
>  ---------------------- Information from the mail header --
>Sender: American Dialect Society
>Poster: Charles Doyle
>Subject: Re: "Cock" = rooster
>And, in the realm of iffy derivations, there exists a third
>possibility: "cock" as part of a firearm.
>Shakespeare's Henry V includes a bawdy exchange among
>the "hostess" and the low-thoughted trio Bardolph, Nym, and
>Pistol. Pistol declares (of himself, playing on his
>name), "Pistol's cock is up, and flashing fire will follow"

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