Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Obscure Word Origin

PG-13 rated stuff below.

A friend has been asking me for months if I could find out the origins of the word "dildo." I'm not sure why he wants to know, since the topic came up along with asking what "e.g." stood for (exempli gratia, in case you were wondering); perhaps he's been having an affair with a philologist. The OED lists the origin as "obscure," with the earliest example of the word being 1610, suggesting that the origins are in the Early Modern era.

Without getting too puerile, does anyone out there know more about the origins of this word?


  1. Come on, Nokes. Isn't this really just a shameless ploy to draw unsuspecting internet surfers to your site?

  2. The OED entry:

    a. A word of obscure origin, used in the refrains of ballads.
    Also, a name of the penis or phallus, or a figure thereof; spec. an artificial penis used for female gratification; the lingam of Hindu worship; formerly, also, a contemptuous or reviling appellation of a man or lad; and app. applied to a cylindrical or ‘sausage’ curl.
    c1593 T. NASHE Choise of Valentines or the Merie Ballad of Nash his Dildo (1899) 20 Curse Eunuke dilldo, senceless counterfet. 1598 FLORIO Worlde of Wordes 261/3 Pastinaca muranese, a dildoe of glasse. Ibid. 278/2 Pinco, a prick, a pillicock, a pintle, a dildoe. 1610 B. JONSON Alch. V. iii, Here I find..The seeling fill'd with poesies of the candle: And Madame, with a Dildo, writ o' the walls. 1611 SHAKES. Wint. T. IV. iv. 195 He has the prettiest Loue-songs for Maids..with such delicate burthens of Dildo's and Fadings. a1627 MIDDLETON Chaste Maid I. ii, What, has he got a singing in his head now? Now's out of work he falls to making dildoes. 1638 FORD Fancies IV. i, This page a milk-livered dildoe. 1647 Parl. Ladies 12 The very sight of this Madam with a Dildoe..put the House into a great silence. c1650 Roxb. Ball. II. 455 She prov'd herself a Duke's daughter, and he but a Squire's son. Sing trang dildo lee. 1656 S. HOLLAND Zara (1719) 41 That Gods may view, With a dildo-doe, What we bake, and what we brew. 1659 TORRIANO, Bacillo..a simple gull, a shallow pate, also a dill-doe, or pillie-cock. 1661 R. W. Conf. Charac. To Rdr. (1860) 7 O thou faint-hearted dildo. 1688 R. HOLME Armoury II. 463/2 A Campaign Wig hath Knots or Bobs (or a Dildo on each side) with a curled Forehead. 1698 FRYER Acc. E. India 179 Under the Banyan Tree, an Altar with a Dildo in the middle being erected, they offer Rice. 1785 GROSE Dict. Vulgar T. s.v., Dildoes are made of wax, horn, leather, and diverse other substances. 1886 BURTON Arab. Nts. X. 239 Of the penis succedaneus,..which the Latins called phallus and fascinum, the French godemich√© and the Italians passatempo and diletto (whence our ‘dildo’), every kind abounds. 1952 AUDEN Nones 11 The nude young male who lounges Against a rock displaying his dildo. 1965 New Statesman 9 Apr. 570/2 Why does it matter so much to them whether lesbians use a dildo or not?

    (You can actually look use the OED online for free until Feb. 13th at http://www.oed.com/bbcwords/. Note, though, that some non-UK IP addresses might not always go through, apparently, but I've never had a problem.)

  3. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary:

    dildo: c.1593, perhaps a corruption of It. deletto "delight," or (less likely) of Eng. diddle (q.v.). "Curse Eunuke dilldo, senceless counterfet" ["Choise of Valentines or the Merie Ballad of Nash his Dildo," T. Nashe, c.1593]

    Neither sounds quite convincing to me.

    Jeffery Hodges

  4. For some reason, I thought that the free OED online had already gone to subscription.

    So we've pushed the date back to 1593 (still Early Modern), but the etymologies still look like guesswork to me. I guess my friend will have to accept "obscure" as his answer.

    When he first asked me, my guess was that there was an Old French word *dildeaux* out there -- like perhaps there was a lost Middle English poem, "The Fabliaux of the Dildeaux." OK, not very scholarly, but fun to imagine.

  5. I don't know the origin of the word. But I do know that when my friend Jimmy heard the word as a kid, before he learned what it meant, he remarked at the dinner table, "Mom, you're such a dildo."

  6. Anonymous6:45 AM