10 Innocent Words And Their Unbelievably Dirty Origins
By Alex Ratliff, Listverse, 29 May 2016.
By Alex Ratliff, Listverse, 29 May 2016.
Do you ever wonder where the words you use in your day-to-day life came from? The answer may disappoint you. At some point, someone just sort of made them up.
But it should surprise exactly no one to learn that human beings are pretty perverse creatures, and occasionally, we allow our minds to slither out of the gutter long enough to influence our methods of communication. Sometimes, though, generations of use wash away the sleaze, leaving a seemingly squeaky-clean term behind.
What we think it means: Forming a necessary base or core; of central importance.
What it really means: Things to do with the ass.
We’ve got the ancient Romans to thank for this one. The Latin word fundamentum means “a foundation, groundwork; support; beginning.” So we’re talking about building houses here, right? Nothing dirty so far.
But once the French got their hands on the term, they tweaked it into fondement and added a curious new usage - to describe the anus. And sometime in the 13th century, the English made it into “fundament,” adding buttocks to the official definition.
It isn’t difficult to see the logic at play here. The foundation of the body, when seated at least, is the butt. So really, when using the term “fundamental,” we’re observing an object’s relationship to the hind quarters. So be sure to pick up some fundamental paper from the store and give all your enemies a fundamental kicking.
9. Venus Flytrap
What we think it means: A small, carnivorous plant.
What it really means: A vicious, fly-eating vagina.
As you’ll quickly discover while reading this article, it seems that many of the esteemed, learned members of the botanical community are, in fact, relentless perverts. For instance, when faced with the challenge of thinking up a name for an amazing plant with the unusual habit of eating insects with a lightning-fast snap of its jaws, they couldn’t get over one little detail. It seems that they saw in its pink, hair-lined lips a resemblance to a certain portion of the female anatomy.
So naturally, this was the only point worth conveying when describing the tiny plant. They named it for Venus, the Roman goddess of love and sex, forever associating it with female sexuality. At least, they would have if we hadn’t all been suckered into the popular notion of it having been named for Venus’s beauty. Wake up, people!
What we think it means: A beautiful flower.
What it really means: Testicles.
Once again, we have those dirty, dirty botanists to thank for inadvertently mentioning genitalia in casual conversation. It seems that at some point, the folks in charge of naming new plants completely overlooked the incredibly beautiful, delicate flowers of the orchid and focused instead on the fact that its roots slightly resembled testes. It takes real talent to be that childish.
And this isn’t the first name it’s had referencing that resemblance. In Middle English, it was called ballockwort, “ballock” meaning - well, I suppose it’s fairly obvious.
But after that joke began to get old, the Latin orchis was brought in, also meaning male genitalia. Now, despite having tacked on a “d,” the giggle-inducing Latin root remains for all to enjoy. Who knew that the average florist had more cheap laughs on offer than a sex shop?
What we think it means: A meeting for a discussion of a subject.
What it really means: Semen.
This one really isn’t so hard to believe. I mean, the word is basically right there, staring us down. Yet strangely, few people seem to make the connection. Once explained, it makes a lot of sense. You’ve just got to fight your way through a bit of an etymological hedge maze to get there.
So “seminar” is really just an English shortening of the Latin seminarium, meaning a “breeding ground” or a “plant nursery.” And that, in turn, is taken from seminarius, meaning “things to do with seeds.”
Finally, we arrive at the root word “semen,” meaning “a seed.” Essentially, this means that a “seminar” is a figurative “breeding ground” of ideas, where figurative semen is shared freely among those in attendance. Now, go forth and share this bit of semen with the world, dear reader.
Photo credit: Charles Robert Knight
What we think it means: A massive prehistoric beast.
What it really means: A creature with nipples for teeth.
It sounds like something from an X-rated version of Alice in Wonderland, but the name “mastodon” literally translates as “breast tooth.” Taken from the Latin terms for breast (mastos) and tooth (odon), the giant creature’s given name references the, er, “unique” shape of its tusks. It’s also further proof of the rampant perversion among the scientific community.
Consider what must have happened when the first skeleton was found. The eager paleontologists were clustered around their dig site, excitement at their newest discovery heavy in the air. The beast is magnificent - 100 times larger than a man, with monstrous tusks capable of unthinkable destruction. Then, from somewhere in the back, a voice pipes up, “Hey. Hey, guys. The ends of the tusks look like nipples!” And they all share a laugh.
What we think it means: A small, wooden writing device.
What it really means: A tiny penis.
Yes. As it turns out, we’ve been putting small penises into the hands of our schoolchildren for generations. But it’s not our fault. The ancient Romans had a real knack for describing innocent objects with the exact words that they used to describe their genitalia. And you just can’t compete with that kind of head start.
“Penis” in Latin means “tail.” Seems to make sense so far. But at some point, it evolved into the word peniculus to describe the brushes used for writing in the ancient world. Then the term evolved further to “penicillus,” literally “little tail,” to specifically describe a paintbrush.
The French then altered it to pincel but kept the definition. Finally, it arrived in England, became “pencil,” and slowly shifted to mean the writing utensils we know today. Yep. Little did you know that you’ve been tucking a penis behind your ear for years.
What we think it means: A huge, female warrior or a river in South America.
What it really means: A person without breasts.
In a refreshing turn of events, here we have ancient Greece, rather than the Roman Empire, dirtying up everyday language. The Greeks of the 14th century told tales of a fearsome race of warrior women known as the Amazones. So committed were they to their deadly craft that they supposedly removed one of their breasts, either by cutting or burning, to keep it out of the way of their bow-drawing arm. Now that’s dedication.
But despite all the stories of their incredible prowess in battle, it was this one detail that everyone remembered. Mazos, the word for “breasts,” was combined with “a,” the prefix for “without,” to craft the insultingly childish term. The South American river was then named by Spanish explorers after an encounter with breastless tribal warrior women - who may have actually just been long-haired male tribesmen.
What we think it means: A heavy scent or perfume.
What it really means: Testicle.
The word “musk” is thrown around a lot in the world of perfume, typically to describe scents designed for men. But little did we know exactly how appropriate that name really was. Musk is actually a substance produced by some animals for the purposes of attracting mates. The thing is, the gland that produces this stuff looks an awful lot like a scrotum.
And so, when the perfumists of the ancient world decided that this animal aphrodisiac could be used in their products, they needed a name for it. They were still human, though, so they had to make it as immature as possible. The Sanskrit word muska-s means “testicle.” The musk gland looked like a scrotum. It was a match made in pointing, giggling heaven. And to this day, we spritz ourselves with testicle juice.
Photo credit: Ahodges7
What we think it means: A large, aquatic mammal.
What it really means: Breasts.
The manatee, often referred to as the sea cow, is indeed a massive, blubbery, marine mammal. With its formless, blob-like shape, you’d be hard-pressed to find a less sexually intriguing, well, anything. But that didn’t stop the Carib word for “breasts” from becoming its official name.
There is actually some dispute over this one. Some claim that the creature’s name comes from the Latin word manatus, meaning “having hands,” due to the shape of its flippers. But the Caribbean word manati, meaning “breasts” or “udders,” is also believed to have spawned the beast’s name.
Personally, I’m going with manati as the inspiration. Not only does it sound closer, but manatees are frequently sighted in the Caribbean, giving the residents plenty of opportunities to make a crude joke at the animals’ expense. Though that still doesn’t explain the association with breasts. Go figure.
What we think it means: A plant, a bean, a delicious flavoring.
What it really means: Vagina.
In the 1500s, Spanish conquistadors were busy taking pretty much anything that wasn’t nailed down from modern-day Mexico. During this lengthy pillaging session, they came across the vanilla plant. And they must have been pretty lonely by this point because they immediately made one amazing stretch of an observation.
When opened, the long, dark vanilla beans apparently looked like female genitalia. They named the plant vainilla, a variation of the word vaina, meaning “sheath.” It seems innocent enough, except that vaina was itself a variation of the Latin “vagina.”
So we’re left with a long, vague, linguistic joke, likening the general shape of the vanilla bean to a woman’s private parts. And it’s one that we take part in every time we visit the ice cream shop. Thanks a lot, Spain.
Top image: Pencil tip close-up. Credit: Juliancolton/Wikimedia Commons.
[Source: Listverse. Edited. Top image added.]