dirty words in dictionaries

George Thompson george.thompson at NYU.EDU
Wed Jun 2 23:29:32 UTC 2004

With reference to a side-track opened in the recent discussion of "phatt".

I have long had a copy of Wessely's Latin-English Dictionary, first published in the late 19th century, a pocket-sized affair undoubtedly for the use of students.  It defined "cunnus" as "cunt" -- a fact that made a sensation in my dorm room, in 1959.  I well remember one of my roomies saying in wonder "I've never seen that word in print!"  But that was the Eisenhower administration, an innocent era.  No doubt the word caused even greater astonishment during the McKinley administration.

Some years ago I made a gesture toward researching this publication, but did not see any way to determine the actual date of printing of my copy; and, as a cheaply made student's dictionary, it did not seem that many libraries owned it.  I was curious to know whether this definition was in all printings of the book, and if not, when it was added or dropped.  No doubt copies could be got cheaply through Bookfinder, et al, and checked for the word, perhaps dated by signatures?

I can't at the moment put my hand on my copy, but don't believe -- fervently hope -- that it is not lost.


George A. Thompson
Author of A Documentary History of "The African Theatre", Northwestern Univ. Pr., 1998.


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