Friday, September 01, 2006

'Tis a Pity


One shouldn't let this subject get staled by custom.
However, the terms applied to professional women down the centuries were also as varied and peculiar as the terms for penises and pudendae.

Readers of Regency romances are no doubt familiar with such expressions as a Convent Garden nun, Haymarket ware, an abbess (more at madam), or game pullet ( quail, pheasant and plover) and lady bird for courtesans, harlots and common prostitutes.
The high number of ornithologically related words indicates, I suppose, the idea of fair game.
I don't think wag-tail, c.1703, was derived strictly from bird-lore though.

Around 16-17th c. another term was green goose, implying, according to the etymologists, something new and fresh.
The number sexual variants, ie. ( green-grocery - the pudend, green grove - pubic hair, and give a green gown - a tumble on the grass) related to green/greens/greenery reflect, I suppose, a pastoral affectation.
The girls of summer.

You may be surprised, as I was, to discover that the term tit (sol. teat) from about the end of the 16th century, didn't always mean breast, but variously, a girl, a young woman, often a harlot, and sometimes the pudend, extrapolated from tit - a small horse.

The word doxy ( variously doxey, doxie, docey and doxe) also had varied applications from circa the 16th c. on. Though usually a mistress, a prostitute, a beggar's trull, a slattern, it also could mean, in the mid-1800's, a wife, a sweetheart, or any young woman , however respectable.
So the standard meaning is not orthodoxy.

Other terms delivered up by random include hobby horse ( late 16-17th c.) ie. in common use; palliasse (19-20th c.) - a cheap, straw mattress;
quaedam ( late 17-18th c.) - cultured colloquial - one of those; mutton (from 1518, singular or collective) - either the person, the place or the performance.

We usually look at mail addressed to occupant with disfavour.
Our reasons are better than we knew.
During the late 16th - early 17th centuries, the usage described a brothel inmate; and from the 16th century to the 19th the verb occupy meant to lie with, to cohabit. More directly, this dictionary entry ends with the direction: "See F*ck."!!!
Dear me.

24 comments:

Erik Ivan James said...

One of my favorite sports is the hunting of upland game birds in green fields!

MissWrite said...

palliasse-a cheap straw mattress. Love that one.

This has been so interesting. I've always been fascinated over where words and phrases come from, and the 'Occupant' slide is fascinating.

One of my favorites, although in no way connected to this series with its fun sexual connections (jeesh, no pun intended) has always been 'don't throw the baby out with the bath water'. At first hearing, in our modern age, it makes no real sense at all. But in times past when water was sometimes scarce, and running water not even a luxuery, folks in a household would all bathe in the same tub of water, starting with the 'master' of the house first, since he supposedly was the hardest working-and always the filthiest (man, talk about your reverse sanitary practices) down to the last--any children and babies. So that by the time the infants were bathed the water was--oooooh lets just say disgusting, and if the poor dear were submerged you wouldn't even notice. LOL I guess you really could throw the baby out with the bath water.

Although if the child were so submerged you didn't notice, it'd probably be dead anyway. Egads what were those people thinking.

Sorry to go off on such a tangent, I do love these types of subjects though.

Janna of Canada said...

Your posts of the last few days have been fascinating! I like the fact that the word "doxy" wasn't always a negative one; I've always found the word to have a rather whimiscal, pleasant ring to it very much at odds with its current definition.

kmfrontain said...

Thank you, Bernita. I love these etymological posts. Gives us insight into matters not spoken of in polite reading matter from the past.

Bernita said...

What a lot of sporting euphemisms there are, Erik.
~Sorry, can't resist~
Now, what does "giving someone the bird" mean in relation to sport, I wonder?

I like that one too. Some are very vivid, are they not, Tami? And quite literally based.

Glad you enjoyed them, Janna!
Was afraid I have been "going to the well to often."

Or, if they were, Karen, help us understand some phrases that might have gone over our heads because of lack of familiarity with the speech and references of the times.
Pleased you liked them!

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Intereting! For some odd reason, I don't think these meanings will ever see the daylight of my lips...LOL!

Ric said...

oh, come on, Bonnie - I've gotten some pretty steamy emails from you!

Baby in the bath water is a good example of still used expressions we have long since forgotten the meaning of.

Thanks to Bernita, each trip to the mailbox will be accompanied by a smile hoping for something addressed to the "occupant" of the house.

Bernita said...

No Magdalenes for you, Bonnie?
Do you suppose you might think them, though?

Brighten your day, Ric?
Of course, your wife might be less enthused.
It is funny. I know I'll laugh the next time I see one so addressed.

J.H. Bográn said...

One big learning journey is what your blog means to me! You have to consider English is not my native language even when I attempt to write fiction in it.
Keep it going!

J.H. Bográn said...

One big learning journey is what your blog means to me! You have to consider English is not my native language even when I attempt to write fiction in it.
Keep it going!

S. W. Vaughn said...

This is truly fascinating stuff. Word etymology is always interesting, and sometimes completely baffling. Thank you for posting this, Bernita!

(RE the pic: nice booty. :-)

Bernita said...

Seems to me you're doing just fine, J.H.!
You have a book coming out, do you not?
And Tami is your editor?
You're a lucky man.

Hope it gives you a giggle, Sonja.
I would call that a "rump"...

Rick said...

Compare the ornithological terms to the modern-era British slang "bird" (is that still current), or for that matter American "chick."

It's too bad about "doxy" in a way - it would be very hard to use it in a story without the modern connotation leaking through.

Dave said...

Wikipedia has a great article about "flipping the bird"

It lists the origins as:
"The origin of this gesture is highly speculative, but is quite possibly up to 2500 years old. It is identified as the digitus impudicus ('impudent finger') in Ancient Roman writings [1] and reference is made to using the finger in the Ancient Greek comedy The Clouds by Aristophanes. It was defined there as a gesture intended to insult another."

Any Italian living 2500 years ago has to be one of my ancestors. Good Idea Dude! Good Idea!

;)

Dennie McDonald said...

I'm laughing at Bonnie - teehee

Dennie McDonald said...

I meant *WITH* I am laughing with Bonnie - LOL

Gabriele C. said...

Misswrite,
that still happened the years immediately after WW2 in Germany. Too much of the infrastructure was destroyed and bathing a luxury indeed.

My aunt had a room with a family, and in honour of her status as guest, she was allowed to bathe directly after the landlord and before his wife and kids.

Bernita said...

Good point, Rick.

Alas, with doxy, that would be a heterodoxy ( ex. Bishop Warburton.)

Somehow comforting, isn't is Dave, to know "rude boys" are not a new thing. Have seen a medieval illustration of what I like to think is Thomas a Becket giving the finger to Henry 11.
There doesn't seem to be a linguistic link between the gesture and the identification of women as "birds" though.
If there is, I'm not sure I want to know about it.

Nice save there, Dennie. You just evaded a clout on the ear.

Probably still true of any place, Gabriele, where water is scarce and/or in-door plumbing non-existent.

Flood said...

I'm with Bonnie. The prude in me will stick to 'lotus flower' and 'womanhood.' Ha-ha!

Do you think it's reflection of my upbringing that I can't use words more apropos?

Ballpoint Wren said...

What I want to know is how pudenda/harlotry terms went from avian to feline?

I may be in my 40s, but I can't watch Goldfinger without snickering when Pussy Galore introduces herself.

Bernita said...

Couldn't say, Flood, remember these terms are mostly obsolete and many examples are extracted from low colloquial, cant and traveller's talk.

Bonnie, I wonder if increased urbanization has something to do with it.
However, "puss" and "pussy" were in use as a euphemism from the 17th century on.

M.E Ellis said...

hahahahaha re: tit. I always wondered why people in the UK say, 'You tit!' which nowadays means wally or idiot. Of course, saying, 'You boob/bosom!' doesn't quite sound right.

I would imagine being called a tit back in those days if you weren't a harlot would have been quite upsetting!

:o)

M.E Ellis said...

hahahahaha re: tit. I always wondered why people in the UK say, 'You tit!' which nowadays means wally or idiot. Of course, saying, 'You boob/bosom!' doesn't quite sound right.

I would imagine being called a tit back in those days if you weren't a harlot would have been quite upsetting!

:o)

Bernita said...

It did mean "filly" as one time, Michelle.
Of course we know what horses are for.
I wonder if calling someone a "tit" today is as much saying "you haven't been weaned," ie. childish.
I've heard the expression, quite common, "useless tit" to describe an idiot, a slacker.