Etymological Scholarship on C-Word

Fri Mar 23 21:07:09 UTC 2007

        The Wikipedia article on Gropecunt Lane,, also has some cites, though
I haven't checked to see how reliable they are.

John Baker

-----Original Message-----
From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf
Of Michael Adams
Sent: Friday, March 23, 2007 4:38 PM
Subject: Re: Etymological Scholarship on C-Word

 Thanks for pointing to Burford's books, Jonathon -- MED did not have
any evidence of such a street in York, and if Burford has, it's quite
important. Of course, the MED's C fascicles were published in the 1950s
or early 60's, so material may well have surfaced since then.


 -----Original Message-----
 From: slang at ABECEDARY.NET
 Sent: Fri, 23 Mar 2007 3:34 PM
 Subject: Re: Etymological Scholarship on C-Word

  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.


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