[Editor’s note: this is a never-before-seen effort by Dr Baldwin; we are grateful that he thought this was an appropriate venue! As always, yours truly takes responsibility for any typos or other editorial negligences which may accrue.]
Thought it might be amusingly instructive to compare and contrast definitions of Latin sexual terms in Lewis & Short (1879) and the Oxford Latin Dictionary (1968-82, ‘ lightly revised’, 2112).
Two dictionaries from very different periods, L&S from the Victorian period and OLD from the ‘swinging’ and ‘sexually liberated’ 1960s. One might have expected a greater frankness in the latter. Not always the case.
For spatial reasons, what follows is merely a selection. J. N. Adams, The Latin Sexual Vocabulary (1982) lists hundreds of Latinisms (pps. 257-65), with exhaustive discussions of them all in his text, for good measure (pps. 266-68), he adds a substantial inventory of Greek terms.
There’s also a lexical cornucopia in F. C. Forberg’s Manual of Classical Erotology, most accessible in the 1966 Grove Press reprint of the 1884 English translation ‘ privately printed for Viscount Julian Smithson M.A., and Friends’ – the dirty devils…
Also relevant, of course, is A. E. Housman’s once-notorious article Praefanda (in Latin), accepted by the Classical Quarterly, only to be withdrawn at proof stage by some panic-stricken trustees, rescued by the less shockable German editors of Hermes, still in Latin, but latterly (Arion 9, 2001, 180-200) Englished or rather Americanized into pungent demotic by James Jayo. Considering how Housman treated so many of their countrymen, it might be thought an exceedingly generous gesture by this German journal.
We start with Suetonius, On Grammarians 23, describing the shamefully indecent way Remmius Palaemon treated women – nowadays, he’d be a prime candidate for #MeToo. Men, too. When he attempted to kiss an unwilling man in a crowd, the latter ‘wittily’ cried out, ‘ Vis tu, Magister, quotiens festinantem aliquem vides, abligurire? (Master, do you wish to mouth everyone whom you see in a hurry? – Rolfe’s old Loeb: wonder what he thought the reader would make of this?).
L&S define abligurio as ‘ to lick away, waste or spend in luxurious indulgence’, adding their favourite formula in mal. part. to indicate an (in their eyes) obscenity. OLD renders ‘ to eat up’, citing the Suetonius passage without any sexual indication.
Incidentally, Suetonius quotes a popular insult from an Atellan farce ridiculing Tiberius for his treatment of the lady Mallonia who had denounced him as she committed suicide: hircum vetulum capreis naturam ligurire (the old goat was licking the does – Rolfe)
Let’s hurry on to festinate. Neither dictionary seems to admit this Suetonian passage. Adams and Housman devoted much space to this, the former (p. 144) adding that properare bore a similar sense, also noting a Pompeian graffito (CIL IV. 4758) comporting the apparent sexual neologism festinabiliter.
A colourful online essay, ‘ The Philology of the Orgasm’ by Max Kenneth points out that (e.g.) Spanish correr and Russian kahnchat are used in this same erotic sense.
L&S tactfully omit Suetonius, Aug. 69. 2, an erotic litany sent in a letter to the emperor by Mark Antony: an refert, ubi et in qua arrigas? (Does it matter where or with whom you take your pleasure? – Rolfe again concealing the point – the verb means to have an erection, as OLD observes.
By the way, Dashiell Hammet’s The Thin Man (1934) was banned in Canada for Nora’s question to Nick, ‘Did you have an erection?’
Ceveo is defined by L&S simply as ‘ to move the haunches’. OLD is more expansive: ‘ of a pathic – to move the haunches in a lewd or effeminate manner’. We might have expected these in dictionary reverse, with the implied moral criticism.
Back to expected L&S form with the related verb crissare: ‘ to move the haunches, in mal. part., of a female as ceveo of a man’. OLD takes a different tack: ‘ of women, to move the haunches as in coitus’. Echoes in both, perhaps, of Lucretius’ erotic litany (bk. 4).
Getting to the bottom of things, L&S dub culus as ‘ posteriors’ (Note the plural, suggesting their minds were more on ‘buttocks’)’. Plain ‘ fundament, anus’ in OLD. Obliterated are the various semantic levels of these fundamental nouns. Culus (same goes for podex) requires a cruder appellation, ‘arse’ (‘ass’ in American). Anus was useful if a pun was needed on the other anus (old woman). Clunes by itself was respectable enough, albeit often used with such erotically-charged verbs as agitare.
Samuel Johnson, who pointedly omitted most vulgarisms from his Dictionary, did allow ‘ arse’, defining as ‘ the buttocks, or hind parts of an animal’.
Famously, when a pair of prim young damsels complimented him on leaving out objectionable words, Sam replied, ‘ What, my dears, have you been looking out for them already?’
Summing up, this is all a case of arse gratis artis.
L&S register ‘Scrotum’ as one meaning of culleus; OLD does not.
Cunnus and Cunnilingus are straightforwardly acknowledged by L&S as ‘female pudendum’ and ‘cunnum lingere’. OLD defines the latter as ‘ a type of sexual pervert’ – somebody’s prejudices are showing.
L&S note the sexual connotation of deglubire in an Ausonius Epigram (71.5); not so in OLD. The former note the well-known Catullus poem for basic glubire, adding their usual in mal. part. formula. OLD cites the Catullus but not the sense. For once, Forberg failed to spot.
Now, a splendid semantic conflict. L&S define draucus as ‘ a sodomite’. OLD say it means ‘ athlete’ (Adams does not mention the term). I suppose one may visualize an athletic sodomite, but…
Effutuo emerges from L&S as ‘ to waste in debauchery’. OLD expands into ‘ to wear out with, or squander on, sexual intercourse’. As to basic futuo, L&S take refuge in ‘ to have connection with a female’ – shades of the Biblical ‘Know’. OLD counter with ‘ to have sexual relations (with a woman)’. Their brackets have become old-fashioned: nowadays, girls and women regularly talk of fucking a man. And, OLD’s avoidance of the f-word comes several years after (1965) Kenneth Tynan uttered it on BBC television.
L&S make a meal out of fascinus: trans. l.q. membrum virile because an image of it was hung around the necks of children as a preventative against witchcraft’. OLD has much the same. Neither adduce (though it is in OLD’s repertoire of references) Petronius 138 where it has to mean ‘dildo’.
Both dictionaries give fellare and fellator short thrift, dismissing ‘ sucker’ as in mal. part. and transf. ‘ as a sexual perversion’. ˆL&S tactfully omit fellatrix, cited by OLD exclusively from Pompeian graffiti.
L&S wax Biblical for ineo as ‘ Know, in mal. part.’ OLD registers the meaning without prejudice. It is so used in Antony’s above-mentioned letter to Augustus.
Irrumare and irrigator were bound to give our lexicographers trouble. After a neutral ‘ to extend the breast to, to give suck’, L&S flee to ‘in mal. part., to treat in a foul or shameful manner’, with ‘ to that in a beastly or shameful manner’ following up. OLD skirts even more around the Catullan issue, translating only one of the cognates, irrumator, as ‘ one who submits to fellatio’.
L&S treat masturbator in a very Victorian way, ‘ one who defiles himself’. No beating about the bush with OLD.
Likewise, L&S fight shy of mentula, left in ‘l.q. membrum virile’. Plain ‘ the male sexual organ’ in OLD.
Paedico and cognates are viewed as ‘ the practise of unnatural vice’ in L&S, whilst unvarnished ‘sodomite’ was enough for OLD.
Poppysma (not in Adams) is for L&S ‘ a smacking or clucking with the tongue’. For Martial’s colourful poppysmata cunni, they cautiously add ‘ of a similar sound’. OLD is similarly evasive.
Spintria (not in Adams) earns a fine combinative definition from L&S: ‘ the contractile muscle of the anus, also a male prostitute’ – very precise anatomical information. OLD is content with ‘ a type of male prostitute’.
L&S gloss vasatus sternly, ‘ i.e. mentula magna instructus’. It is not precisely specified in OLD because the term (often with bene added) is restricted to the Historia Augusta, beyond its lexical range, a strange and harmful editorial decision. See Adams (pps. 41-42) for details, OLD does include Vaso as ‘ one having a large sexual organ’, citing (with a question mark) the grammarian Pomponius.
For perfect finale, Sellarius, the jewel in L&S’ scatology-avoiding crown. OLD see the word (not in Adams) as denoting a type of male prostitute, connecting it with sellarium (privy), and adding a secondary unrelated ‘ member of a chariot-racing establishment (of uncertain function)’.
L&S arrived at this glorious circumlocution: ‘ one that practises lewdness upon a settle’. How many people nowadays know what a settle is? Had to verify it myself. English dictionary definition is elaborate: ‘ An old-fashioned piece of furniture with a long wooden seat and a high back and arms, often also with a box for storing things under the seat’.
I leave it to readers to settle the mystery of what kind of lewdness would be specifically practised in/on such a contraption…