when "intercourse" got funny

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM
Thu Sep 28 13:57:16 UTC 2006

The  allegations about "occupy" appear to be true.  The latest OED revisions include relevant comments about "occupy" from both Shakespeare and Jonson - most remarkable !

  Jonson complained that "many" had quit using the word "nature" because of their own "obscene Apprehensions."

"Arnold M. Zwicky" <zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU> wrote:
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Sender: American Dialect Society
Poster: "Arnold M. Zwicky"
Subject: Re: when "intercourse" got funny

On Sep 27, 2006, at 9:48 AM, Jon Lighter wrote:

> ... One might contrast the career of "occupy," which eighteenth-
> cenury writers allegedly began avoiding in droves because it had
> become sexualized; there was no social counterbalance to keep the
> word innocent. But eventually everybody forgot the sexual meaning,
> which seems remarkable in itself.

that has always seemed astonishing to me. if the standard story is
to be believed, the word was desexualized, an event that is, i think,
quite rare in language history. i can devise a story that would
allow this to happen, but it would require a competitor word that
came into fashion and swamped "occupy" in the sexual meaning, so
freeing the word up for non-sexual meanings. unfortunately, i'm
deeply ignorant of word histories in the 18th and 19th centuries.


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