An early "cock"?

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM
Thu Jun 29 23:49:50 UTC 2006

"HDAS," of course, is merely another synonym for yours truly, and yours truly sees no reason to alter his decision in the midst of controversy.

  My reasoning is as follows. Unless used in the context of another named species, the word seems to be the plain designation, as far back as one can tell, of the male domestic fowl. Conceivably, it could be a woodcock of either sex, though this sense is untraced before 1530 at the earliest.  So if we take the lyric literally, the poet has a rooster (or a woodcock, neither being a favorite cagebird of the "Lesbia's Sparrow" type) who lives in, flies in, or regularly walks into his lady's chamber at night. And she doesn't mind. In fact, she thinks it's great.

  Second.  The undisputed documentation of the word as a synonym for "pecker" goes back to 1618.  That's not quite "ca1450," but it's close enough to make a Middle English date (in a period of limited documentation for frank sexual terms) seem perfectly plausible. What's more, unlike some recent synonyms (like "trouser trout")the word is simple and sober enough to have occurred at almost any time.

  Third. None of the various details in the lyric are obviously inconsistent with the presumed double-entendre.  The likelihood of  such a coincidence seems to me to be remote, especially since the consistent double-entendre helps rather than hinders the poem as an imaginative creation.

  Fourth.  Some linguistic support to the bawdy interpretation is given by the existence of a still earlier quotation (a1325) which unselfconsciously refers to the organ in question as a "pilcock."  The early 14th C. quotation shows that the element, if not the word, / kok / was associated with the organ long before the 15th C. lyric was written.

  The question remains whether the word, as it appears in the poem, is a legitimate occurrence of its familiar sexual sense, or just a sexual symbol.  If the poet's audience was not expected to know the word in its sexual sense, they would likely have regarded it as a pretty song about a peculiar rooster or woodcock and a strange young woman.  That's not too funny.  But a sustained double-entendre brag about his own / kok / and an amative young woman - that's literature !

  It would be quite remarkable for a 15th C. poet to choose, as an original sexual symbol, a word which later centuries have adopted as, in the words of the OED, "The
  current name among the people."  Not impossible, but quite remarkable.

  To take a vaguely comparable modern example.  The heroine of the Ian Fleming classic _Goldfinger_ is named "Pussy Galore."  Yep, that's her name, and it was her name in the '64 movie too. In an era when the sexual sense of Ms. Galore's Christian name was ordinarily unutterable in a Hollywood film, was its presence a Bawdy Joke or a Meaningless Accident ?

  Theoretically we can't "know."  (Hume may have a relevant passage on this).  But we can be morally certain.


  "Joel S. Berson" <Berson at ATT.NET> wrote:
  ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
Sender: American Dialect Society
Poster: "Joel S. Berson"
Subject: Re: An early "cock"?

I apologize for sending essentially the same query twice within a
week. But it did get responses the second time ...

Charles, I think I was asking whether the use in the song was a
metaphor, rather than asserting it was; and whether metaphors were
excluded. I think I now have the answer--or rather, both
answers: it's excluded, not a penis in the OED but it's included, is
a penis, in HDAS.


At 6/29/2006 09:12 AM, you wrote:
>Joel, didn't you suggest several days ago that the poem's
>use of "cock" fails to qualify for entry in OED because it's
>just a metaphor? And a metaphor has to expire into a so-
>called "dead metaphor" before its figurative sense becomes a
>lexified, denotative "meaning" of the word or phrase.
>Furthermore, the early poem contains many descriptive
>details that do NOT fit any consistent interpretation of
>the "cock" as a penis (unless I'm being naive or obtuse!).
>The poem is very unlike those pretended-obscene riddles we
>were discussing last week, in which EVERY detail must fit
>both interpretations.
>---- Original message ----
> >Date: Thu, 29 Jun 2006 08:44:20 -0400
> >From: "Joel S. Berson"
> >Subject: An early "cock"?
> >
> >The following anonymous poem/song is alleged to come from
>the 14th century (others allege 15th). Does it? Would it
>qualify as = "penis", for which the earliest OED2 citation
>is 1618? Or is it too ambiguous? Or has it simply not been
>found in any writing of sufficiently early date?
> >
> >Joel--who is amused at the vision of gentil old ladies
>hearing this sung at a concert of early music.
> >
> >Courtesy of someone (else) with an interest in such things:
> >
> >>"I Have a Gentil Cock"
> >>___________________
> >>I have a gentil cock
> >>croweth me day
> >>he doth me risen early
> >>my matins for to stay
> >>
> >>I have a gentil cock
> >>comen he is of great
> >>his comb is of red coral
> >>his tail is of jet
> >>
> >>I have a gentil cock
> >>comen he is of kind
> >>his comb is of red sorrel
> >>his tail is of inde
> >>
> >>his legs be of azure
> >>so gentil and so small
> >>his spurs are of silver white
> >>into the wortewale
> >>
> >>his eyes are of crystal
> >>locked all in amber
> >>and every night he pertcheth him
> >>in my lady`s chamber"
>The American Dialect Society -

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