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TMI Cyber Monday Morning Latin Lesson

December 2, 2013

When the call came in to party central that we were going to try and kickstart ye olde Blogosphere with a Cyber Monday special, my mind immediately went to a different meaning of the word cyber.  The relationship I had with the Ex- was a special one, and since it was a long-distance thing, we did a lot of talking online and over the phone.  In case you don't remember, the Ex- is my pseudonym to protect the identity of my former fiancee, with whom I had many a sexual (mis)adventure.  Our relationship, such as it was, suffered from being a long-distance thing.  Fortunately, we had phones and computers with which to chat, converse, and flirt.

As our relationship progressed and turned more sexual, we did a whole lot of sexing over the interwebs, more commonly known as "cybersex."  While I spent many a night with the phone held in the crook of my neck between my ear and my shoulder or doing some serious one-handed typing, there came a point where I needed to describe what it was I was going to do to her.  In graphic detail.  Because she liked the dirty talk.  A lot.  However, I was not sure of what term she preferred for her "lady parts."

This has always been an awkward and delicate situation for me.  Anytime that I was faced with a new girlfriend or a new lover, someone with whom I may, one day, be getting intimate, I would always stumble when trying to discover what term she used when discussing her Holy of Holies.  Most of the time, I would broach the subject tenderly, by inserting a cleverly-placed "*ahem*" into the spot where the questionable euphemism would or should be supplied.  It was after the third or fourth *ahem* that the Ex- finally revealed to me that her preferred term for her lady parts was the Terrible C-Word (or cunt, if you're not twelve years old).

I've already touched upon the derivation of said euphemism and how it is related to rabbits.  A cuniculus makes a tunnel; an *ahem* has a tunnel.  See?  Brilliant.

A few weeks ago, I came across an amusing cat picture on the internet.  No, really.  Guys, I know you might not believe this, but there are a lot of cat pictures on the internet.  Well, this one was somewhat clever:  it featured a long-haired feline sitting between a woman's ankles and the cat was looking up.  Naughty, naughty, kitty.

That got me to thinking, though:  Where did the association between a woman's genitalia and a friendly kitteh begin?  So, I did some research on the subject.  I also looked into the etymology of the word "pussy."  See what I did there?  I am the master of the bait and switch.

Anyway, the term pussy, when applied to a cat, comes to us (probably) from German, where the term "puss" is used as a familiar form for cat, kind of like how we use kitty nowadays.  The word puss (and, by extension, pussy) was used not only for cats, but also for rabbits and bunnies (connecting us back to the above euphemisms!) and an ironic sort of name for tigers.  It seems as though the word "puss" was used lovingly for anything that it warm, covered in hair, and is easy to stroke.

I know what you're thinking, but let's not go there just yet, because we have other connections to make here.

Puss and Pussy were also old school affectionate names for girls, kind of like we use Sugar, Dear or Honey today.  Despite all this, however, it seems that the warm, hairy, lovable parts of a female's anatomy are not the straightforward connection you might naturally assume.  However, there was probably some trading back and forth of terms in various languages in Europe, whether it was the Germanic tongues that the Angles and Saxons brought to the British Isles or the Romance languages derived from and adopted by various barbarian tribes that took up homes in Western Europe as the Roman Empire slowly crumbled into history.

With that said, pussy, as it pertains to female genitalia, probably did enter into the language as a slang term for girls.  However, in this case, it probably came from the French word la pucelle, which means "young woman," which is ultimately derived from the Latin term puella, girl.  It probably began to be used as a euphemism for vagina in English and then spread out from there.  Both French and German have back translated words meaning "cat" to use as slang words for female genitalia, such as la chatte in French--notice the gender of the noun!  This is probably an instance where the similarities in pronunciation of the two words blended the meanings of the word together--puss and pussy meaning something soft and furry as well as a term for a young woman.  From there, despite having different definitions, the similar pronunciations of two words eventually led them to be connected, though cats and vaginae really don't have that much in common...other than having lots of pictures of each on the internet.

The connotation between a slang term for a woman's reproductive organs and someone who is weak, I thought, was an obvious one:  if you're a man who either won't stand and fight or who appears weak and effeminate, you might have female reproductive organs and are therefore a pussy.  It's a schoolyard taunt that many of us have made without thinking about it.

However, I learned that it most likely has nothing to do with girls, cats or soft, furry, touchable things.  Instead, a pussy of a man is one who is weak in spirit, and the term pussy, in this case, comes from the word "pusillanimous," which has descended into English from Latin and means "having a very small soul or spirit."  Pusillanimous, in English, means "lacking courage."  Rather than throw out the sesquipedalian word, it got shortened to it's first two syllables:  pussy, and though the /u/ sound in pusillanimous is slightly different from the /u/ in pussy, the similar spellings came to be pronounced the same way. 

Offended yet?  No?  Good.  Disgusted?  No?  Well, get ready.

One more meaning for the word pussy to hit you with:  if you change the pronunciation of the the /u/ in the word to sound more like that in the word "bus," you get a whole different meaning.  And I think we can all agree that a pussy should never be pussy.

That does remind me of a time in an undergraduate scientific Latin and Greek class where the professor translated pyoma (I think) as "a pussy tumor."  I was writing that down, when suddenly I was hit with a spelling question.  I turned to my friend Amanda and whispered "How do you spell 'pussy?'"  Then we giggled like the twelve-year-olds we were (I was a senior, she was a sophomore, so totally appropriate).

Alright, let's see here:  REM lyric worked into the text.  Check.  TMI post about how I used to cyberfuck my Ex-Fiancee?  Check.  Useless Latin trivia?  Check.  Picture of LeeLee Sobieski?  Check.  Hovertext?  Got it!  Pictures of scantily-clad women?  You betcha.  Several puns and double entendre?  All over the place!  A really long post that no one will read?  Double check!  Alright, that about wraps it up here.  See you again in two years!


That Janie Girl said...

I read your post, and enjoyed it! Don't wait two years!
Revive Blogland!

Nice to meet you!

Jan said...

Welcome back!

Jan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sassy Britches said...

Totally read the whole thing! Interesting about the origin of using "pussy" to describe a male. And it wouldn't be one of your posts without LeeLee. :)

Soda and Candy said...

Haha this is classic! It really doesn't make sense to call someone a pussy-vagina for being weak, those things are incredibly resilient.

Cora said...

Oh, the things I learn when I wander your way. Bravo, sir!

Scope said...

I read the whole thing, but haven't been able to get the first picture out of my mind.

words...words...words... said...

What Scope said.

Also, that's really interesting that "pussy" meaning vagina and "pussy" meaning wussy guy aren't etymologically related. We're not misogynists!

This line killed me: "though cats and vaginae really don't have that much in common...other than having lots of pictures of each on the internet." Well done!