dirty words in dictionaries

George Thompson george.thompson at NYU.EDU
Thu Jun 3 23:52:50 UTC 2004

Thank you, Fred.  If I don't find my copy of this dictionary this weekend, I won't find it until I next move.

I didn't suppose that Jesse was doubting me, though doubting a memory of something read 40 years before is very reasonable.  But I am glad that the exact citation is now before us.

I had a thought that I might use ABEBooks or the like to identify booksellers with this book, and ask them to check to see whether this definition was present in their copy.  But I see that D. McKay kept a book of this title in print into the 1960s, purportedly edited or revised, and I didn't recognize any as being the 19th C version.  I have just quickly checked the NYTimes on ProQuest, looking for a 19th C advertisement that might date the earliest printing of the book, but found nothing.

If a Latinist among us can suggest other Juvenalian words Fred or another with this book in hand might check to see whether this sort of vernacular definition was the editorial policy.  The male organ of generation is, I think, "mentula"?

I suspect that it was either a prank or sabotage on the part of a compositor.  This first press run of Twain's Huckleberry Finn was recalled because an engraver, (fired for drunkenness, I think) before he left, took a plate for the book showing a middle-aged male character standing with his arm around his wife's shoulder and added a few lines to give a bulge at the groin of the man's trousers.
A compositor either seeing cunnus discretely defined, in Latin, perhaps, thought I can give a better definition than that, or, not seeing cunnus at all, thought How can they leave out one of the most useful words in the Latin language?


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

----- Original Message -----
From: Fred Shapiro <fred.shapiro at YALE.EDU>
Date: Thursday, June 3, 2004 5:00 pm
Subject: Re: dirty words in dictionaries

> On Wed, 2 Jun 2004, Jesse Sheidlower wrote:
> > I find this astonishing, absolutely astonishing.
> I have in front of me Joseph E. Wessely, Handy Dictionary of the
> Latin and
> English Languages.  It has no date, but the Yale catalog assigns
> it the
> dating "188-."  On page 29 appears the following:
> cunnus, i, _m. cunt, strumpet._
> Fred Shapiro
> -------------------------------------------------------------------
> -------
> Fred R. Shapiro                             Editor
> Associate Librarian for Collections and     YALE DICTIONARY OF
> QUOTATIONS  Access and Lecturer in Legal Research     Yale
> University Press,
> Yale Law School                             forthcoming
> e-mail: fred.shapiro at yale.edu
> http://quotationdictionary.com-------------------------------------
> -------------------------------------

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