Thursday, April 19, 2007

Codpiece Silliness

Just a warning: There is nothing edifying in this short film on emergency codpiece substitutions. Also, though it has no nudity or profanity, it may not be workplace-friendly -- unless of course you are a medievalist like me (or an early-modern scholar), in which any discussion of codpieces is entirely within bounds.


  1. I love the van driving past in the background at 1:38

  2. Call me sophomoric, but I find it hilarious that you basically have to click on his 'codpiece' in order to play the clip.

  3. Being myself a connoisseur of the codpiece, and knowing a great many ladies and lords to whom such a performance would appeal, I shall reposteth forthwith! I have long desired the codpiece to returneth to fashion. Mayhap this shall speed the trend.

  4. Anonymous12:14 PM

    My book publicist encouraged me to submit an article to Publishers Weekly. I chose a topic that incorporated the codpiece but it arrived too late to be timely and so I toss it up here for your reading pleasure (I should really mail this to Susan Patron)

    Scrotal Coverup
    Like a codpiece, the Lucky debate showed more than it covered.

    Susan Patron's book The Higher Power of Lucky has gotten a lot of attention based on its inclusion of the word scrotum. As an author who's written a fair bit about words to do with the body—including scrota and other parts usually kept under cover—I applaud all those forces that by hook or by crook protect the innocence of children. The word scrotum appeared in English from French medical Latin back in William Shakespeare's day. Before that the scrotum was called the cod and a century before Shakespeare, King Henry VIII covered his cod with a codpiece. This article of clothing was designed to have an effect analogous to the inflationary result of the purported banning of The Higher Power of Lucky. Far from discreetly containing the privates of court gentlemen, a codpiece was an advertisement intended to draw attention to that which it ostensibly hid.

    It's been called "the Lucky debate," "the scrotum kafuffle" and "scrotumgate." Let's review how this cat got out of the…um…bag. Discussion had been circulating online before Publishers Weekly picked up the story. Evidently some librarians with responsibility for children's book acquisitions were hesitant to get the ball rolling in bringing in this particular Newbery winner. The debate was superficially a simple one; is scrotum an appropriate word for children's books? But beneath the undulating surface of this argument lay a couple of other nuggets; should librarians assume the role of an intellectual protective cup, or was such a role in conflict with freedom of expression and learning? When The New York Times ran with the story nuance fell away. It was the good guys against the bad guys. "Racy content" cried the white hats (or were those the black hats?) and "censorship" came the reply. But stepping back, the shades of gray look even deeper. Undoubtedly there were high pitched objections to the word scrotum, but a heavy dose of librarian hesitancy, where it exists, seems to come not from moral outrage. Far beyond the apparent black and white of obscenity versus censorship painstaking considerations were being made of budgets, balance and potential criticism from school administrators and outside pressure groups. For some there is a real possibility of placard wielding protesters at the gates.

    Evidently follow-up articles have found that libraries have generally not banned the book. Even the most strident objectors are said to be including it in their collections. Moreover, with the excitement of "the word" and the reported unseemly conduct of a bunch of librarians (for heaven's sake), public attention has undoubtedly tightened to trust sales higher. If there ever was an effort to ban this book, it seems not to have achieved satisfaction.

    The children whose ears we might wish to protect from words such as scrotum actually have a need to learn such anatomically correct vocabulary. Not only are about half of them owners of scrota, but some specialists in the field of child protection and sexual abuse prevention believe that children with a more sophisticated vocabulary are at lower risk. Whether this is because such knowledgeable children are somehow more on their guard or better able to report abuse isn't completely clear. It may simply be that by setting an adult example, children learn that private parts don't need to be associated with deep dark secrets. A child who knows his parent is comfortable saying "the word" will be comfortable too; thus light is shone and secrets aren't kept where abusers might otherwise lurk.

    However inadvertently, the Lucky debate has brought a perfectly respectable word out of the dark and into many more children's lives, family discussions and bedtime readings than would have been the case without all the fuss. The New York Times, Publishers Weekly and all the prudish objectors are to be congratulated for servicing our collective need—even if they didn't know they were doing it. The reverse psychology of it all works for our kids just as Henry's codpiece worked for him. You've got to have something out of proportion to have had six wives.