Extreme Vulgar Words are All Gaelic
WORDS THAT ARE USED IN SWEARING, ABUSE OR FOR RUDENESS EFFECT THAT ARE CHARGED THROUGH BEING (OR SUPPOSEDLY BEING) SEXUAL: ALL ARE GAELIC IN ETYMOLOGY
Steve Moxon, 2019. stevemoxon3(at)talktalk.net
For all words with sexual connotations, the extreme shift from complete openness about sex to the very opposite of its becoming taboo under Puritanism in the 17th century and again in the Victorian era, would tend to render them taboo, but this would be especially so in the case of vestiges of Gaelic speaking, where Gaelic words persist as loan words into English. Being lower-class vernacular, they would be disparaged as such in the highly class-conscious milieu of the 19th and 20th centuries. This would then make them candidates for adoption more generally when a particularly highly charged word is required rather than a more matter-of-fact one. In turn, they would be ripe for use as expletives or terms of abuse.
F*CK (THE F-WORD)
Fuc, pronounced ‘fùchg’, verb and noun, ‘press against’ [1833 Neil MacAlpine, A Pronouncing Gaelic Dictionary. It appears to have been censored from later dictionaries.] A very succinct way of labelling sexual intercourse, given that penetration / reception ensues naturally from a male and a female pressing against each other face-to-face in sexual arousal. Clearly related words in Gaelic are feachd, pronounced ‘feshg’, ‘yield’, and füd, ‘under’ or (as a contraction of fuidhead), ‘under thee’; all highly apposite re sex, and reveal fuc to be indigenously Gaelic and not a loan word from another language, chiming with the earliest occurrence of f*ck being Scottish (1513, the Scottish poet William Dunbar). Standardly, this would be taken to suggest indirect Norse rooting, and of course the usual etymology of the word is that it is of some sort of Germanic origin, but this is untenable in that the medieval English word for copulation was swive; not f*ck: a Germanic word would have been incorporated into early forms of English or its precursors, so certainly would have appeared in Old English. The very late arrival into English is consonant with vernacular usage as a vestige from Gaelic-speaking, only latterly being officially recorded. In any case, the supposed etymology re a Germanic origin would be problematic: the meaning is either ‘to strike’, which hardly evokes sexual intercourse, or ‘to move back and forth’, which might evoke sex but obliquely, alluding to just a mechanical aspect — one that is well captured in English to rock, but which has not led to any word with that sense to denote sexual intercourse. The words resembling the f-word in modern north-European languages are themselves dialect, begging similar questions as the origin of the English f-word faces, and rendering them unlikely to have been available for incorporation into another language.
As an expletive, f*ck is the different Gaelic word fuich!, which is a general expression, ‘fie!’, related to fioch, ‘wrath, anger’, fiochail, fiochar, ‘angry’; forcar, ‘violence’. Fuich! surely also has been incorporated into English and confused — conflated with — the same word as that denoting sexual intercourse. This would have added fierce fuel to the fire stoked by words concerning sex becoming taboo together with their being ‘low class’ vernacular attracting class snobbery.
T*AT (THE T-WORD)
Tùt, pronounced ‘tewet’, ‘silent flatulance (breaking wind)’. Allied to toit, smoke, fume. The extension of meaning to females is seen in tuthan, ‘a slut’ — a female role defined specifically in terms of possessing a vagina, of course. The meaning appears to be ‘queef’: the indeed relatively silent (compared to anal) form of breaking wind from the vagina; and/or possibly a reference to female suppression of overtly breaking wind to avoid undermining female attractiveness! A revealing complication is another, quite different word also Anglicised to t*at, from tuath (tuathlan), ‘an awkward, ungainly person, a boor, a rustic, a plebian’. This is the entirely innocuous word current in the 1960s and 1970s, in the South Pennines school playground at least, where t*at never meant ‘vagina’. Subsequent confusion between the two Anglicised words would explain why t*at has become such a highly charged word over and above what would be expected from sexual taboo and class snobbery, when until the 19th century it was not a term of abuse at all.
The standard etymology as usual is “uncertain”, with a supposed recent origin from the usual very late date of first official recording of vernacular that would have been invisible to or ignored by officialdom. In this case, 1650-1560. It’s suggested that it’s a North England dialectal variant of Old English thwat, parallel to Old Norse thveit, ‘forest clearing’, from an earlier stem meaning ‘to slit, cut’ — the cutting down of trees being required to create a forest clearing. The unlikely if not bizarre notion here is that a vagina is regarded in effect as an amputated penis. The automatic recourse to Norse derivation is left with something akin to the extremely vulgar regional gash, in the older meanings of thveit or its precursor of the vagina envisaged as a (noun) ‘cut’ or ‘slit’. But this is abstruse. A vagina is a receptacle, and with a circular entrance. The vulva is also more like a receptacle, and its protection by a series of folds that are also wavy in appearance is hardly a simple cut or slit.
It might be thought that with the pronunciation ‘tewet’, tùt is the root of twit, but twit instead is obviously from tuit, n, v, ‘fall, stumble, sink, subside, befall’; which may indeed be related to the innocuous t*at as derived from tuath. Supposedly first recorded in 1934, twit is yet another ‘origin unknown’ to standard etymology.
C*NT (THE C-WORD)
Cuint, ‘vagina’, related to cuanna, ‘snug, comfortable’, cuan, ‘haven, a bay’, cuinge, ‘a channel, a narrow strait, narrowness, exceeding narrowness, difficulty’. PIE geu-, ‘hollow place’, is in the combination of sound and meaning clearly the ultimate root of cuint. Not only do the related words in Gaelic clearly indicate that this is a Gaelic word and not an import from another language, but all of the other suggested etymologies (including the Latin as well as Norse) are found wanting by linguists, who all accept that there is no solution to the etymological puzzle of c*nt. They have not considered the Gaelic route into English. Cuint is an apposite descriptive term, and not only in no sense derogatory, but it is positively warm. For it to become a term of invective is, therefore, nothing to do with notions of contempt towards women, which are false feminist slights. Surely intensifying the opprobrium heaped on the word once it had become taboo and looked down on, would have been its conspicuousness as a generic street name, Gropec*nt Lane, denoting a brothel area. This strong association with prostitution may have been compounded by confusion with other Gaelic words that although unrelated also may have Anglicised to c*nt or something very like it: cunnradh, ‘bargain’, cunnt, ‘count’ (which is a loan of the English word, but may well have been as the Gaelic take on it in English vernacular), and cunnart, meaning ‘danger’, with an additional sense of ‘doubt’.
Bòilich, ‘tall talk, vain boasting, bluster, bombast’. From boillsg, ‘gleam, shine, flash, glitter’, ultimately from PIE bhel, ‘to swell’. That bollocks derives from this is clear in the retained meaning, but there are two different possible routes. It may be direct from Gaelic, even though unrecorded until recently (1919) — this would not be unusual for Gaelic-rooted vernacular — and confused (conflated) with a word meaning ‘testicles’ recorded in English from 1744: ballocks, from Old English beallucas, supposedly again from PIE bhel but via Proto-Germanic ball. This etymology is curious, though, in that it’s hard to see how ‘to swell’ leads to ‘ball’, nor how swelling applies to testicles, whereas with the testicles being the source of maleness they could well be denoted in terms of bombast. Instead, therefore, OE beallucas itself is likely to derive from bòilich, in which case there isn’t confusion and conflation of two words here, but just the one. Either way, there is Gaelic intromission.
Colg, cuilg, calg, ‘awn, a prickle, sting, any sharp-pointed thing, a sword, a spear, a fierce look, rage, the point of a weapon’; coigne, ‘a spear, dart’; all ultimately — and possibly more directly than via Gaelic — from Proto-Celtic kalgā, ‘penis’. Awns are the long needles projecting upwards from the beard of corn — the seed head of any cereal. There is a similar word meaning both ‘beard of corn’ and ‘penis’ in both Old Irish and Old Welsh, reflecting the common origin across Britonnic and Goidelic languages in Proto-Celtic, and the meaning ‘penis’ from the outset. Being ubiquitous in the ancestral landscape, corn beards / awns, being erect and lengthy, would have been the obvious choice of an object to liken to the penis, and which, therefore, could be used as a euphemism for it. As this became entrenched in usage, it would become the familiar word denoting ‘penis’. The etymology here is also that of the related word cock meaning more generally ‘set upright’. There is nothing in any etymology other than Gaelic that would lead to a meaning ‘penis’. Old English coc, as with the corresponding words in Germanic and Nordic languages, and PIE kukkaz, from which they all stem, all mean ‘male chicken’, named onomatopoeically from the sound of its call. The only way this could come to mean ‘penis’ is through confusion and conflation with Gaelic colg. Evidently, then, Gaelic colg is not from English or any precursor of it. In other words, colg cannot be mangled cock loaned from English. It’s the reverse. Colg is a Gaelic loan word to English, mangled to cock.
Faighean, ‘vagina’, pronounced ‘fie-in’, has the sense of ‘sheath, scabbard’, as the vagina is to the penis. Official recording of the Anglicisation goes back only to the 1830s, in line with its vernacular usage being invisible to or ignored by officialdom. The American usage is more recent still, and through prudery is a euphemism — by displacement being taken to refer to buttocks. The etymology that has been offered is the perfectly non-explanation that it’s simply from the personal name, or from a specific individual named Fanny: Fanny Adams, a famous murder victim, whose butchered remains sailors joked were the contents of the mutton they were provided in cans they re-used as mess tins. It is implied that as a receptacle the tin was taken to be akin to the vagina. Forced derivation of amusing ridiculousness.
Pis-y, pit-y, ‘vulva’ rendered in Anglicisation more familiar (less formal), or the added y may be the standard way of denoting plenty: ‘plenty of vulva’, as it were. It is often assumed that pusa, plural of pus, ‘lip, mouth’, is here being used in reference to labia, but it is disputed that this parallel ever would have been entertained. A lateral extension of meaning from ‘sissy’, ‘effeminate man’ (from piseog, the diminutive of pit / pis; literally, ‘little vulva’) doesn’t need to be posited, as the pronunciation of pit, like ‘pitch’ — seemingly registered in the alternative spelling pis — needs only the above standard familiarization. Far from being an American import, as might be supposed, the Anglicisation is recorded in 1583: a note that pussy was now being used to denote ‘woman’. This would pre-require the word to have long been current to denote the vagina for this meaning then to be broadened by association. The recorder — or, rather the very recent compiler of etymological notes? — may well have misunderstood, thinking that the transfer of meaning was from pussycat! It has been ventured that this is the origin, in that cats are soft and furry, akin to the vulva and mons pubis! More forced derivation. Old Norse puss, ‘pocket, pouch’, has been suggested, which may well be traceable back to the same PIE root as has pit / pis, but there is no evident transition in meaning from ‘pocket’ to ‘vagina’. As with almost all of these words, linguists end up throwing hands in the air: “origin uncertain”. Yet the clear-cut Gaelic derivation is not even mentioned as a possibility.
Aoineagan, ‘wallowing, weltering, rolling on the ground’. To wallow is defined as ‘indulge in an unrestrained way (in something that one finds pleasurable); welter means ‘roll, writhe, toss’. Tellingly, there is the expression aoineagan fain, ‘wallowing himself’. That aoineagan is not merely a Gaelic take on and pronunciation of wanker is shown by the related words uan, ‘foam’, aonais, ‘want’, aorabh, ‘bodily or mental constitution’, aoradh, ‘worship’. These reveal etymology within Gaelic.
Buagharra, ‘a disagreeable person, vexatious, disagreeable’, with likely co-roots in bagarrach, ‘one who is prone to threaten’, and baoghaire, ‘a fool’. With the origin in Gaelic long forgotten, there has been either rationalisation to the seeming nearest English word (which would be evident from the meanings being very different), or in the borrowing into English the Gaelic word acquired a new, additional meaning. So the word meaning ‘disagreeable person’ is not from a word that has come to denote sodomy, supposedly from a word meaning ‘heretic’ from ancient French, in turn from the Latin for a Bulgarian sect. That it’s Gaelic in derivation and with “a more innocent origin” was pointed out back in 1877 by Charles MacKay: The Gaelic Etymology of the Languages of Western Europe, and More Especially of the English and Lowland Scotch and of their Slang, Cant, and Colloquial Dialects.
[“This odious and disgusting word, if used in the sense usually assigned to it, and which is constantly in the mouths of the vulgar, appears to have a more innocent origin than is generally assigned to it, and to be derivable from one of many words in the Gaelic. Baoghaire, a fool; … buagharra, vexatious, disagreeable, a disagreeable person; … bagart, a threat; bagarrach, one who is prone to threaten … With all these words to choose from, … it is time, if the word cannot be abolished, which is too much to hope for, that it should convey a sense less offensive than the one which is commonly assigned to it.”]
Sod, ‘clumsy, awkward person’.
Paralleling the case of bugger, the same assumption that this originated in a term denoting homosexual behaviour (sodomy) is even more clearly false, in that the rationalisation requires a drastic shortening. It’s first recording in 1818 is consistent with its being Gaelic-based vernacular. There are various related and different grammatical forms, well demonstrating that the word is firmly within Gaelic and not a loan word from English.
Tosaitheoir, ‘beginner (novice, neophyte, learner), trespasser’. There are a good number of closely related words and with an interesting variety of sometimes tangential meanings, mostly to do with time. The notion that tosser is a take on toss off, meaning masturbation, is mere assumption, failing to explain the general usage to mean ‘a stupid person’. That would have it backwards. The Gaelic word has been rationalised in its Anglicisation to the only word conceivably it could be, and naturally then presumed to be a reference to masturbation.
Peillichdeach, pronounced ‘peillichd’, ‘clumsy; thick, coarse’, related to peillichd, ‘made up of earth and branches, and roofed with skins; any very thick or coarse cloth; a covering made of skins or coarse cloth’; peillic, ‘a hut or booth’. Again, the cluster of inter-related words indicates a Gaelic original home and not a borrowing. There is a distinct possibility of an alternative or co- or subsidiary root in pialaidheachd, ‘liberality to profusion’. Also meaning ‘hospitality’, the sense is of being over-welcoming, presumably alluding to being open to being taken advantage of. This is very much the usage of the word: a gullible sort of idiot. The standard etymology of a shortening of pillicock, meaning ‘penis’, is mere assumption.
Peacach, ‘sinful’, ‘sinner’, pronounced ‘pechg’-ach’, which is close to the pronunciation ‘pish’ of piss archaically in England and as it is today in Scotland. There are several almost identical words, and not only just reflecting different parts of grammar, all having a meaning concerning sin. This variety, together with the wholly unexpected meaning, shows this is an original and not a loan word into Gaelic. The plethora of words and constructions in English with the piss- stem betrays that meaning must be more profound and general than ‘urine’; not that anyway much if any sense can be made of it as the meaning in any form or context of piss.