Etymological Scholarship on C-Word

Jonathon Green slang at ABECEDARY.NET
Fri Mar 23 19:34:50 UTC 2007

Michael Adams wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Michael Adams <madams1448 at AOL.COM>
> Subject:      Re: Etymological Scholarship on C-Word
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
>  The "Gropecuntelane" evidence is from Eilert Ekwall's Street-Names of the City of London (Oxford, 1954). It's the only pre-14th-century evidence of the c-word, and it's slippery evidence: note that "grope" n, "lane," and "cunt" are all synonyms in one sense or another -- without context, it's impossible to determine whether the name recorded is an official name, a folk name, a joke, even. The 1230 evidence is used by some to suggest a continuous history from a hypothetical Old English etymon, but it's too thin a peg to hold that heavy hypothesis, and the c-word is really in the same situation as the f-word -- most Germanic languages include cognates, and one would like to assume an Old English reflex among them, but one can't. In the c-word's case, early Middle English borrowing from Danish (Danish "kunte" being more likely the source of the London street name element than Old Norse kunta) can't be ruled out.
While one's instincts may be to hesitate, as it were, at the portals of
Gropecuntlane, it appears that such a name was popular in the various
'stews' of the period,. Such streets, also hosting brothels, were to be
found contemporaneously in both York and Oxford. For topographical,
rather than etymological info. I recommend two books by E.J. Burford:
_The Orrible Synne_ (1973) and _Bawds and Lodgings_ (1976) both of which
deal with London's early 'red-light' areas. His research is rather more
serious than his titles.


The American Dialect Society -

More information about the Ads-l mailing list