Sunday, July 12, 2015

The cock crowed three times


     "Did the bird come first?" she said, under circumstances I will not relate, except to say that while I immediately knew exactly what she was referring to, I set the question aside to consider at a more apt moment.
     Which is now.
     I have an interest in the divergent meanings of words, and whether those meanings have a connection.  "Turkey," for instance, is a country, but it's also a bird, the connection being ... wait for it ... that when European explorers first saw turkeys, they thought them exotic birds, and the home of exoticness at the time was the Ottoman Empire, the way fancy fried potatoes became "French fries" because sophisticated grub comes from France.
     In previous posts, I connect rocket, the spacecraft, with rocket, the plant, while finding waffle, the foodstuff, and waffle, the act of indecision, trace their origins independently to the Netherlands and Scotland, respectively.
     So to the matter at hand: "cock." The main two definitions of "cock" are highlighted in George Carlin's "Filthy Words" routine that went all the way up to the Supreme Court in FCC v. the Pacifica Foundation.*
     "The word cock is a half-way dirty word, 50% dirty—dirty half the time, depending on what you mean by it," Carlin says, in the transcript of the case offered into evidence by the FCC. "Remember when you first heard it, like in 6th grade, you used to giggle. 'And the cock crowed three times!' Heh (laughter) the cock -- three times. It's in the Bible, cock in the Bible. (laughter) And the first time you heard about a cock-fight, remember—What? Huh? Naw."
     So how did "cock" come to be used to describe a barnyard fowl and a very different kind of pecker? 
     The definition of "cock" in the Oxford English Dictionary covers two full pages and begins, "1. The male of the common domestic fowl, Gallus domesticus, the female being the HEN.)"
     That usage goes back some 1100 years, to 897, to King Alfred's translation of Pope Gregory I's Pastoral Care: "Donne graet se lareow swa swa kok on niht."
     The second definition—"Figuratively applied to men" seemed to be the expected skirting of the issue, listing usage denoting various ministers, leaders, watchmen.      
     I assumed the mighty Oxford would blanche, like an elephant startling at a mouse, since that edition has no entry for "fuck." I didn't expect the OED to touch "cock" either. 
     The 12th definition seemed to reveal a willful ignorance:
     "A spout or short pipe serving as a channel for passing liquids through, and having an appliance for regulating or stopping the flow; a tap." True enough, but the analysis afterward baldly admitted, "The origin of the name in this sense is not very clear. The resemblance of some stop-cocks to a cock's head with its comb, readily suggests itself."
     Uh-huh. Elizabethan tavern owners called beer spigots "cocks" because they looked like a rooster's head. Well, yeah, it could be that, or maybe you're ignoring the obvious, some other object through which liquids flow.
     Other meanings follow, part of a plow, the needle of a balance, a bracket in clock making ... I had no hope, but was just being thorough. You can't say a meaning is missing unless you've checked it all. "The mark at which curlers aim." 
     Then, quite unexpectedly, the Oxford just blurts it out:  "20 = Penis." tracing the word back to 1737 and Rabelais, and nodding at its popularity among the unwashed masses. "The current name among the people, but, pudoris causa,** not admissible in polite speech or literature, in scientific literature the Latin is used. In origin perhaps intimately connected with sense 12." 
      So the Oxford, at least in the faraway era of 1978, speculates that the sexual usage for "cock" must have been borrowed from keg taps, which got that meaning from the shape of rooster heads.
    That's weak. I would form a stronger, alternate theory: that "cock" was used for the male organ all along, and then applied to male birds and spouting taps, where it first slipped into the historical record.  It's easy enough to find earlier usages that somehow eluded the OED.
     Cocks certainly pop up all through Shakespeare's plays, in the three main senses of the word. As birds yes, "The early Village Cock Hath twice done salutation to the morne" (RIchard III) and as spigots, "When every room hath blaz'd with lights, and bray'd with minstrelsy, I have retir'd me to a wasteful cock, And set mine eyes at flow," in Timon refers to retiring to a tavern.  "
     But Shakespeare also uses "cock" in a variety of obvious double entrendres, whether in Hamlet, in the ramblings of mad Ophelia ("Alack, and fie for shame!/Young men will do't if they come to'it, By Cock, they are to blame.") or in Henry V ("Pistol's cock is up, and flashing fire's to follow.") In the first sense it's a stand in for "God," and in the second, a cock was also the hammer of a gun  (hence guns being "cocked") 
     Samuel Johnson's great 1755 dictionary hints at the connection between the two types of pecker, defining "to cock" as "to set erect, to hold bolt upright, as a cock holds his head," and when we think of the actual barnyard fowl, heads thrown back, combs at attention, it isn't difficult to suspect, as I do, that the two meanings go back a long time, a theory supported in the copious scholarship on the subject. 
       "The relation of cock and phallus is ancient" notes Gordon Williams, in his 1994 A Dictionary of Sexual Language in Shakespeare and Stuart Literature, beginning his entry on the word. 
    At which point we should probably let go of the subject, lest we be drawn into the vast online  discussion of the word, the most interesting aspect being that "cock" was polite English until Victorian times, and that American squeamishness even replaced its avian and plumbing uses with "rooster" and "faucet," as a sort of guilt by association. My interest sagged reading a lengthy debate over  a 2500-year-old Greek phallus-headed statue of a rooster that may, or may not, reside in the secret collection of the Vatican. But I think we've handled this sufficiently. I'm a little sorry I brought it up.

   
* On Oct. 30, 1973, at about 2 p.m., New York radio station WBAI played George Carlin's 12-minute routine. It was heard by a father driving with his young son, who complained to
the FCC, which found "Filthy Words" "patently offensive" and wrote the station a letter of reprimand, warning that it could affect renewal of its license. A lawsuit by the Pacifica Foundation, owners of the station, followed. Emphasizing the "narrowness" of its ruling, the Court, in a 5-4 decision, found that the government has an interest in regulating the content of material broadcast on the airwaves, because "broadcasting is uniquely accessible to children, even those too young to read." Writing for the majority, John Paul Stevens explained, "Of all forms of communication, broadcasting has the most limited First Amendment protection. Among the reasons for specially treating indecent broadcasting is the uniquely pervasive presence that medium of expression occupies in the lives of our people. Broadcasts extend into the privacy of the home and it is impossible completely to avoid."

 *"Pudoris causa is Latin for "because it is shameful." 

30 comments:

  1. You're very naughty, Mr. S, yet informative.

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  2. I remembered laughing inside when a handyman said we needed a new ballcock on the outside hose spigot to prevent leakage. So true about the pipe definition.

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  3. though the word "cocky" doesn't seem to relate to that in it's meaning

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  4. A lot of research had to have gone into this and it was all interesting but "....very different kind of pecker" was unexpected and the first big laugh of the day.

    Thanks,

    Doug D.

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  5. Perfect last line.
    And, may I say, a hard act to follow.

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  6. What in my mind undermines the FCC's rationale is that kids invariably are more familiar with the "dirty word" than the innocent construction (thus the giggles).

    John

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  7. It may have been hard, but you presented your cock piece very nicely.

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    1. very clever, Nikki

      and you aren't too "cocky" either ;)

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    2. I remember being shocked when I first learned that ball cock was actually a plumbing term and item.

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    3. Plumbing also has nipples, which have male threads which screw into female threads.

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  8. All this knowledge so early in the morning is making my head swell.

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  9. So if I am getting the thrust of your article, the position you are taking is that we may never fully know where the original union of meanings is rooted. A bit anticlimactic.

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  10. Man, the entendres are certainly doubling on this thread. Nicely done, folks. : )

    Well, you never know what the special will be at the Steinberg Bakery, so I guess a cake in the shape of a cock should be no surprise today.

    What's curious to me is that Shakespeare is certainly no stranger to the OED. He usually gets more credit from it than he deserves, evidently. "Jonathan Hope of the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland, writes in his essay, 'Shakespeare's Native English', that 'the Victorian scholars who read texts for the first edition of the OED paid special attention to Shakespeare: [H]is texts were read more thoroughly, and cited more often, so he is often credited with the first use of words, or senses of words, which can, in fact, be found in other writers.'"

    http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2004/04/0419_040419_shakespeare_2.html

    Yes, posting that reference is a bridge too far, undoubtedly, but how often does one get to highlight the U of Strathclyde? ; )

    So, given that they're not dodging the usage entirely, one does wonder why they'd use Rabelais as the first citation. I'm too chicken to explore this any further, or to try to compete with the jokes above, though...

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    1. comeon, Jak, give us a good double entendre, you can do it

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  11. You're naughty, Mr. S, ha ha.

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  12. Speaking of penis cakes, you can get some in NY.

    http://www.yelp.com/biz/new-york-penis-cakes-new-york

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  13. I would be remiss if I didn't compliment you on the choice of accompanying photo. Looks like a fun ride.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks. The Merry-go-round at Put-in-Bay, Ohio.

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    2. lol, put in bay, good one, even if it is a real town

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    3. I never thought of that. I just chose this because it was one of the few rooster photos I have.

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    4. Sure, sure.

      That's one of those places I keep meaning to get to. Did you write a column about it years ago?

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    5. Several, including one about the carousel itself: http://www.everygoddamnday.com/2013/08/carousel-captures-lifes-fleeting-moments.html

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  14. So a line could be written, "By Cock! That cockney cock's cock flew in and half-cocked the cocks and got ale on my cock!" (Sorry, couldn't resist)

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  15. Nikki, you are wicked! ;)

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  16. Don't know if anyone is still reading this, but I am just revisiting EGDD after a week away, sans computer. The etymological derivation of "cock" seemed at first a cockamamie subject for Neil's Sunday sermon, and I wasn't sure I would be up to commenting on it. However, following tout les entendre, double and otherwise, it has inspired from my fellow posters, I would like to call attention to a couple of factual omissions. There are two pertinent expressions Neil neglected to cite. However, I wouldn't characterize their omission as true cockups. Nor would I cock a snoot at him for not touching on them, because they are more characteristic of British than American usage.

    Tom Evans

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    Replies
    1. Brilliant, as ever, Mr. Evans.

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  17. how to get rid of pearly penile papules? are you finding of this question answer. you can click here and solved your ppp problem.

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