The mouse. The fork. The cork. The ploughshare.
The staff of life. The placket-racket. The whim-wham. The peacemaker.
These are all words for a man’s bagpipe. But women, never to be outdone, have plenty of names for their tirly-whirlies, too.
The nettle bed. The blind alley. The catch-em (all) alive-o.
The Jacob’s Ladder. The front window. The bit of pork.
All of this, and more, can be explored on these timelines of male and female genitalia. They’re the meticulously debaucherous creations of slang lexicographer Jonathon Green, who alongside his researchers, has studied more 6,000 books, dictionaries, plays, newspapers and other vintage publications dating back hundreds of years in the interest of digging up morsels of lost speech that stemmed from the mouths of the most clever and vulgar.
“Slang is just one more part of the bigger English language, but it has always tended to concentrate on certain themes,” Green tells Co.Design. “The penis is often going to be some kind of weapon, the vagina some kind of narrow passage, intercourse some way of saying ‘man hits woman.'”
The wordplay is certainly a bit less fun when reduced to such misogynistic terms, but slang for genitalia is amongst the most common throughout history, right alongside other topics like crime/criminals, drinking/drunks, drugs, and money. So in building out topical timelines, Green is less editorializing history in hopes of hooking Reddit than he is mapping a subset of language evolving throughout history. In this case, history starts around 1530, when slang–words used by criminals, essentially–began getting collected. But slang exists in the written record as early as the year 1000. (And in terms of these timelines, the oldest word is probably the worst–*shivers* “cunt” *shivers*–which made its debut around the year 1220 and has sadly stuck around.
“There are words I cannot [always] work out. And of course stuff, over the centuries, has got away,” Green explains. “Slang is a marginal language spoken by marginal people, which meant that it has never been recorded with the level of care that standard English has.”
Luckily, thanks to the preservation work of researchers like Green, we men still have our longplums, our picklocks, our eavesdroppers, and our phoenixes, while women have their tinderboxes, their cauldrons, and, of course, the one word that will ruin all dinner party decency to come: their purses.
Buy Jonathon Green’s Dictionary of Slang here.