Archive for the 'Etymology' Category

On Homophobia

by Jason Stotts

I think the topic of homophobia is fascinating, because I think all too many people misunderstand what homophobia means.  Most dictionary and common-use definitions consider “homophobia” to be a fear of, or aversion to, homosexuals.  I, however, don’t think that’s quite right.

I think the term “homophobia” is great.  It is a combination of Greek homo- standing in for “homosexual” and  –phobia, which is Greek for fear.  Homosexuality is, of course, desire or attraction for a person of the same sex.  Actually, what homosexuality is, is a very interesting discussion in it’s own right.  Is it a kind of person or a disposition for action?  Is it primarily about a person’s attractions?  Is it about the kind of person they could imagine themselves being in a relationship with?  Is a person always right about their sexual orientation?  But, we’re going to leave those questions aside for now.

Returning to homophobia, I think the term is great because it denotes a fear of homosexuals.  What sets me apart from most people, though, is that I think of this quite differently.  I think that homophobia is a fear that the subject themself might be gay, not that they are afraid of gay people. Let me elaborate.  I think that when a person is feeling homophobic, and there is no doubt that this is often triggered by an external source or event, but the true object of the fear is not this external source. Rather, it is the fear that the person who has the fear is himself gay.  So, for example, let’s say John sees two guys holding hands, and perhaps kissing, and John feels homophobic, I think that the actual source of John’s fear and anger is a latent, perhaps repressed, thought that John, himself, might be gay.  Although John might be thinking “Look at those two faggots, I can’t believe they would do that in public!”  His vehemence is actually coming from the thought “I wonder…what would it be like to kiss a guy or fool around with one?”, recognizing that this thought is “inappropriate” for him, quickly repressing it in order to maintain his self-identity, and then reacting with anger and fear to the object that provoked the thought, since reacting to the thought itself would be psychologically untenable for him, since he couldn’t have possibly had that thought.  He’s straight, after all, he couldn’t possibly want to do things with men.

The point is that I think the object of the fear is not external to the person, contrary to their beliefs, but rather that the object of the fear in homophobia is a person’s own desires and fears about their desires.  In some ways I think this is similar to the reason that some people fear legalizing marijuana or other illicit drugs: the fact that it is illicit is the only reason that the person is not engaging in the activity and they know that they want to, so they need someone else to tell them it’s wrong and prevent them from doing it.  If it weren’t prohibited or illicit, then they might just go ahead and partake in the drugs or the homosexuality.  They lack the will to control themselves, so they feel like them must be controlled by others.

This is further compounded by the ideas that we “are” a certain sexual orientation, that this identity is a large part of our overall identity, and that our orientation is fixed, inflexible, and unchanging.  I am straight, or bi, or gay and I will always be that way because part of who I am is to be gay or straight or bi.  That’s how we conceive of ourselves in our culture and that’s just the way it is.  Yet, that’s not the way it’s always been and it’s not the way it’s been in all cultures.  As I alluded to earlier, some cultures thought of homosexuality and heterosexuality as categories of actions and not categories of people.  Thus, I am not gay when I fellate another man, but the fellation is homosexual.  The difference is in the object of the homosexuality: is it me as a person or is it the thing I’m doing.  It makes no small difference.  If I’m a homosexual, then homosexuality is part of who I am.  If simply some acts I do are homosexual, then I am not constrained by the category of homosexuality, it is simply a descriptor for some of the things I do.  There is a whole world of difference here.

If I am “a homosexual,” that category of identification will act to norm my behavior in some ways.  This effect might be pronounced, but it might also be a subtle psychological effect.  If I am straight and what it means to be straight is to never have an attraction for another man, then I can’t let myself have an attraction to another man, because that’s not part of what it is to be straight, and I am straight, therefore I don’t have an attraction to another man.  If I were to have an attraction to another man, I’d have to work to repress it, as it would violate my sense of identity: I’m not gay, so I can’t have gay thoughts.  Actually, it must not actually be me having a gay thought, since I’m straight, it must have been those gays putting gay thoughts in my head, since straight men can’t have attractions to other men. So I don’t have to worry about my own heterosexuality.  It’s not me that’s the problem: it’s those damn men kissing in public.

You see what happens here?  Our category of identity traps us into its mold and this mold helps to shape our thoughts and behaviors.  In this case, it is very much the person’s identification of himself as heterosexual and his belief about what heterosexuality is and isn’t that is causing his fear and anger.  If, for example, he were to have thought of heterosexuality and homosexuality as categories of actions and not of people, and thus didn’t rigidly designate his own sexuality and bound his thoughts and behavior by it, then he would not have been afraid of what the possible interest in other men meant and he wouldn’t have reacted with anger.

So, perhaps we should say that homophobia at the end of the day is a fear of being the same as something that you find repugnant. And the more you try to push it away in yourself, the more militant you will be about it in others.

This is all I have to say on this topic for now, but I encourage you to think about how you conceive of sexual orientation and how that impacts your self-identity and action.

Polyamory is Wrong!

by Jason Stotts

I saw this come across the twitter earlier today (via @kellyelmore79) and several people were kind enough to forward it to me as well. I think it’s one of the best things I’ve seen in awhile.

I share this etymological worry myself.  As I said in “On Polysexuality“:

What I am interested in analyzing is the practice of having multiple sexual partners.  […] I will begin by naming it “polysexuality” combining the Greek poly- (more, many) with the Latin sexus (sex) and meaning by it the condition of having multiple, or more than one, sexual partners during any one time period (not necessarily simultaneously) or of having sex with people besides a person’s partner while he is in a relationship.  As much as I hate to combine Greek and Latin, the standard nomenclature regarding sexuality has already been bastardized and, so, for clarity’s sake in English, I will follow suit.  The problem is that there is no sufficient word in the English language to deal with the phenomenon that we are analyzing and so I must introduce this new word to carry the cognitive weight of the following analysis.  Furthermore, in contrast to “polysexual,” I will introduce the word “monosexual,” the Greek mono- (one), as meaning sex with only one person during any time period or, to put it another way, a person who does not have sex with anyone besides his partner when he is in a relationship.

Unfortunately, English is lacking in some pretty important words regarding love and sexuality.

Furthermore, the word “poly-philia” (from the shirt) more properly means that one has a lot of friends than it means something like multiple lovers.  The greek philia is the love of a friend, not the romantic concept of love that we have in our culture and which is absent from Greek culture.

Ultimately, I think that in these matters we are either going to have to bite the etymological bullet and accept the bastardized words or have issues being understood.

Sexual Etymology

by Jason Stotts

Last year I started a weekly segment called “Sexual Etymology.”  In it, I went through words related to sex and took a look at their etymological origins to see if these origins could inform our current understanding of these words and their use. Unfortunately, in the move from Blogspot, I forgot about the segment and let it lapse. I am happy to announce, though, that I am rectifying this and reintroducing this segment.  To hold you over until the new editions come, I’ve reposted all of the originals.  Enjoy!


Penis and Vagina

Fellatio and Cunnilingus

Hymen and Orgasm

Ejaculate and Cum

Sadism, Masochism, and Candaulism

Weibliche Scham

Sexual Etymology: Sadism, Masochism, and Candaulism

by Jason Stotts

Today’s words are all etymologically interesting as they are not derived from other languages, but as a reference to the names of their originators.

Sadism – the enjoyment of another’s pain or suffering, usually in a sexual context.  The name is a reference to the Marquis de Sade, author of 120 Days of Sodom and Justine (among others).

Masochism – the enjoyment of pain or suffering being inflicted on oneself, usually in a sexual context.  The name is a reference to Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, author of Venus in Furs.

Candaulism – the enjoyment of sexually exposing one’s female partner to the view of others.  The name is a reference to King Candaules from Herodotus’s tale of Gyges (which is substantially different from Plato’s account of the myth of Gyges).

It should be obvious that the term “Sadomasochism” is a combination of sadism and masochism and is intended to encompass the whole of the enjoyment of pain in relation to sex (whether giving or receiving).

I’m still taking requests for words.  There are still the following words left:

Sexual Etymology: Ejaculate and Cum

by Jason Stotts

There are many words in our language to describe orgasm, but two of the more etymologically interesting are “ejaculate” and “cum.”

Ejaculate – 1578, “emit semen,” from L. ejaculatus, pp. of ejaculari, from ex- “out” + jaculari “to throw, dart,” from jaculum “javelin,” from jacere “to throw.” Only other surviving sense is “exclaim suddenly” (1666). (ejaculate)

Interestingly, until rather recently the more common use of “ejaculate” was the second form of “exclaim suddenly.” It is not until recently that the rather obscure medical term ejaculate came into common parlance. Before that, it was common to see characters ejaculate “What?” or “So!” and people never associated this with orgasm.

The word “cum” also has an interesting history.

Cum – (v. and n.) seems to be a modern (by 1973) variant of the sexual sense of come that originated in pornographic writing, perhaps first in the noun sense. This “experience sexual orgasm” slang meaning of come (perhaps originally come off) is attested from 1650, in “Walking In A Meadowe Greene,” in a folio of “loose songs” collected by Bishop Percy.

They lay soe close together, they made me much to wonder;
I knew not which was wether, until I saw her under.
Then off he came, and blusht for shame soe soon that he had endit;
Yet still she lies, and to him cryes, “one more and none can mend it.”

As a noun meaning “semen or other product of orgasm” it is on record from the 1920s. The sexual cum seems to have no connection with L. cum,the preposition meaning “with, together with,” which is occasionally used in English in local names of combined parishes or benifices (e.g.Chorlton-cum-Hardy), in popular Latin phrases (e.g. cum laude), or as a combining word to indicate a dual nature or function (e.g. slumber party-cum-bloodbath). (cum)

I’ve always found the word “cum” to be rather strange. It’s not as if I go somewhere before orgasm and then suddenly come back. It makes somewhat more sense to me as “it [my semen, orgasm] is coming,” but that is not the general usage.

One of my favorite ways of talking about orgasm is the French “la petite mort” or “the little death.” I think that, in general, the French have one of the best sexual vocabularies in terms of both descriptive power and accuracy.

Sexual Etymology: Hymen and Orgasm

by Jason Stotts

In this week’s edition of Sexual Etymology, we’re going to be looking at “hymen” and “orgasm.

Hymen – 1615, from Fr. hymen (16c.), ult. from Gk. hymen “virginal membrane, thin skin.” Originally any membrane; present specific meaning begins with Vesalius, 1550. Hymeneal “wedding hymn” is 1717, from L. hymenaeus, from Gk. hymenaios “belonging to wedlock, wedding, wedding song,” from Hymen, Gk. god of marriage, represented as a youth carrying a torch and a veil. (hymen)

So, hymen is obviously very similar in meaning to its original definition.  One interesting thing to note, though, is the connection of hymen to marriage.  This connection is almost ubiquitous in ancient cultures (even in some modern cultures) as a sign of a girl’s virginity.  This, of course, is rather strange as they are easy to break and are more often broken by a non-sexual activity, than by a sexual one.

Orgasm – 1680s, from Fr. orgasme, from Gk. orgasmos “excitement, swelling,” from organ “be in heat, become ripe for,” lit. “to swell, be excited,” related to orge “impulse, excitement, anger,” from PIE base *wrog- “to burgeon, swell with strength” (cf. Skt. urja “a nourishment, sap, vigor,” O.Ir.ferc, ferg “anger”). The verb is attested from 1973, originally and usually in reference to a woman’s sexual climax. Orgasmic is attested from 1935. (orgasm)

Orgasm also has a very clear progression and a very similar meaning to its original meaning of excitement and swelling.  We’ll contrast this with ejaculation, which we shall take a look at next week.

Sexual Etymology: Fellatio and Cunnilingus

by Jason

[Note: today’s words are from and not Chambers, since Chambers didn’t have these words listed]

Today’s words are the technical names for “blow job” (fellatio) and “eating out” (cunnilingus).

Fellatio: 1887, from Latin fellatus, pp. of fellare “to suck,” from PIE base *dhe- (see fecund). The sexual partner performing fellatio is a fellator; if female, a fellatrice or fellatrix.

Cunnilingus: 1887, from modern Latin cunnus “vulva” (see cunt) + lingere “to lick” . The Latin properly would mean “one who licks a vulva,” but it is used in English in reference to the action, not the actor. The verb ought to be cunnilingue.

One thing I find interesting about the words we use for oral sex is that both of our current terms (blowjob and eat out) are very metaphorical in nature and very imprecise, whereas the latin is very literal and direct.  Compare the term “blow job” (who wants someone just to blow on their penis?) with fellatio, which is literally to suck (which is what one is actually desiring).  Or the term “eating out” (which is so purposefully ambiguous to be nonsensical) with cunnilingus, which is literally to lick the vulva (which is what one actually desires – or at least to lick the clit, but that the clit was distinct from the vulva may not have been entirely understood at the time).

I think these two Latin words are much better than the current words we employ and I try to use them in my writing, instead of the more confused words that are currently in vogue.  Although, I’m not suggesting that you start using Latin in bed, but consider asking for an action directly (suck my penis) as opposed to asking for something that you don’t actually want (blow on my penis).

I’m still taking suggestions for next week’s edition of Sexual Etymology, on the list still are:

Sexual Etymology: Penis and Vagina

by Jason Stotts

In this week’s edition of Sexual Etymology, we’re going to look at the origins of the words “penis” and “vagina.” I think you might be somewhat surprised at what we find.

Vagina: (n.) passage from the uterus to the vulva.  1682, New Latin, from Latin vagina (sheath, scabbard) perhaps cognate with Lithuanian vozti (cover with something hollow), and Latvian vast (put a cover on), from Indo-European *wag- (sheath).

So, the origins of our word “vagina” is from “sheath.”  Given the origins of vagina, you might expect that the origins of the word “penis” would be “sword.”  Well, let’s see.

Penis: (n) 1676, borrowed perhaps through French penis (penis), or directly from Latin penis (penis), earlier *pesnis (tail).  The Latin word is cognate with Greek peos and Sanskrit pasas (penis).

So, the origins of our word penis is from later Latin, where it had the same meaning, but it grew out of the idea of “tail.”  So, if you were expecting the poetic metaphor of “sword and sheath,” then you are probably a little disappointed.

It is interesting how the idea of a tail could come to mean penis (as we know it), since there are certainly animals with both a tail and a penis.  Vagina is also interesting because a sheath is something you store a sword in when you’re not using it in order to keep it (and you) safe.  This is at least a little dissimilar from a vagina.

At least with this set of words, there is no negativity associated with the words.  Whether this is because the words have been considered “clinical” and therefore they don’t take on the connotative baggage that mutates them or perhaps it is because they predate the christian hatred of the body and sexuality, it’s hard to say.  Nevertheless, we should certainly continue to utilize these words.

Suggestions are still welcome, on the docket are:
– hymen
– fellatio
– orgasm
– coitus
– fetish
– paraphilia
– homosexuality
– heterosexuality
– sodomy
– erotic
– procreation