Joanne M. Despres jdespres at MERRIAM-WEBSTER.COM
Mon Sep 22 13:52:50 UTC 2003

Just for the record, the 1962 cite in HDAS is for the sense
"something difficult to deal with."  The 1964 date M-W reports
(backed by another cite in HDAS) is for the sense "a stupid

Is the word a calque?  The evidence I've seen so far doesn't
seem compelling.  The earliest recorded uses of the word in
English don't particularly suggest Italian influence, and the
combination of various names for the human genitalia with "-head"
to suggest stupidity seems well established in English (note the
cross-references to analogous terms in HDAS).  In fact, the use of
such words as terms of abuse denoting  defects of intelligence or
character seems a fairly common pattern across languages.

Joanne M. Despres, Senior Editor
Merriam-Webster, Inc.
jdespres at merriam-webster.com

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