Latin profanity

Latin profanity

Latin profanity is the profane, indecent, or impolite vocabulary of Latin, and its uses. The profane vocabulary of early Vulgar Latin was largely sexual and scatological: the abundance[1] of religious profanity found in some of the Romance languages is a Christian development, and as such does not appear in Classical Latin. In Vulgar Latin, words that were considered to be profanity were described generally as obsc(a)ena, "obscene, lewd", unfit for public use; or improba, "improper, in poor taste, undignified". (Note that the name "Vulgar Latin" simply referred to the common speech, not necessarily profanity, although Vulgar Latin was the form of Latin in which sexual and scatological expletives existed. In the more formal Classical Latin, no profanity is recorded except in satirical works, or in discussion of the actual words.)

Since profanity, by definition, consists of spoken words that people use very informally, it is worthwhile to note the sources of Latin profanity. Knowledge of Latin profanity and obscenities comes from a number of sources:

  • The satirical poets, particularly Catullus and Martial, use the words in preserved literary works. Horace also used them in his earlier poems. The anonymous Priapeia is another important literary source.
  • The orator and lawyer Cicero's Epistulae ad Familiares ("Letters to My Friends") discuss Latin profanity, and confirm the "profane" or "obscene" status of many of the words.
  • A number of medical or especially veterinary texts use the words as part of their working vocabulary, in which they were not considered obscenity but simply jargon.
  • Preserved graffiti from the Roman period use these words. A rich trove of examples of profane Latin at work was discovered on the walls of Pompeii and Herculaneum.


Mentula and verpa: the penis

Mentula is the basic Latin word for penis. Its status as a basic obscenity is confirmed by the Priapeia 28, in which mentula and cunnus are given as ideal examples of obscene words:

Obscenis, peream, Priape, si non
uti me pudet improbisque verbis
sed cum tu posito deus pudore
ostendas mihi coleos patentes
cum cunno mihi mentula est vocanda
("I'd rather die than use obscene and improper words; but when you, Priapus, as a god, appear with your testicles hanging out, it is appropriate for me to speak of cunts and cocks.")

Verpa is also a basic Latin obscenity for "penis". It appears less frequently in Classical Latin, but it does appear in Catullus 47:

vos Veraniolo meo et Fabullo
verpus praeposuit Priapus ille?
("Did that dick, that Priapus, prefer you to my dear Veraniolus and Fabullus?")

Verpus, adjective and noun, referred to a man whose glans was exposed, either by an erection or by circumcision; thus Juvenal has

Quaesitum ad fontem solos deducere verpos
("To guide only the circumcised [i.e. Jews] to the fountain that they seek").
An example of a sopio (see below), the god Mercury was depicted with an enormous penis on this fresco from Pompeii.


The exact etymology of mentula is somewhat obscure, although outwardly it would appear to be a diminutive of mēns, (gen. mentis, the "mind" (i.e.; "the little mind"). Mentum is the chin. Cicero's letter 9:22 ad Familiares relates it to menta, a spearmint stalk. Tucker's Etymological Dictionary of Latin relates it to ēminēre, "to project outwards", and mōns, "a mountain", all of which suggest an Indo-European *men-.

Verpa probably relates to something "thrust" or "thrown"; compare Dutch werpen, Danish verfe, Icelandic verpa, and Old English weorpan (the root of English warp), all meaning "to throw".


Mentula frequently appears in the poetry of Catullus. Catullus uses Mentula as a nickname for Mamurra, and uses it as an ordinary name, as in his epigram 105:

Mentula conatur Pipleium scandere montem:
     Musae furcillis praecipitem eiciunt.
("The penis tries to climb the Pipleian mount (of poetry); the Muses drive him out with pitchforks.")

Synonyms and metaphors

The Latin word pēnis itself originally meant "tail". Cicero's ad Familiares, 9.22, observes that pēnis originally was an innocuous word, but that the meaning of male sexual organ had become primary by his day. Once it acquired its sexual sense, this sense tarred the word and made it unusable for anything other than the sexual sense; thus pēnis became the standard medical and scientific jargon word.

The obscure word sōpiō (gen. sōpiōnis) seemed to mean a sexualized caricature with an abnormally large penis, such as the Romans were known to draw. It appears in Catullus 37: frontem tabernae sopionibus scribam ("I will draw sopios on the front of the tavern") and in graffiti from Pompeii: ut merdas edatis, qui scripseras sopionis ("whoever drew sopios, let him eat shit!'") The grammarian Sacerdos preserves a quotation about Pompey, that says quem non pudet et rubet, non est homo, sed sopio ("whoever is not ashamed and blushes is not a man, but a sopio.") Sōpiō would appear to describe drawings such as that of the god Mercury in the illustration.

The word pipinna seems to have been children's slang for the penis; compare English pee-pee. It appears in Martial 11.71:

Drauci Natta sui vorat pipinnam,
collatus cui gallus est Priapus.
("Natta sucks the pee-pee of his athlete. Compared to him, Priapus is a eunuch.")

The verb arrigō, arrigere meant "to have an erection". Suetonius's Lives of the Twelve Caesars, Augustus 69, contains the line:

An refert, ubi et in qua arrigas?
("Does it make any difference to me who made you erect, or when?")

In the Romance languages

Mentula has evolved into Sicilian and Italian minchia and South Sardinian minca. Minga also exists in Spanish. Verpa is preserved in some Romance dialects, usually with another meaning; verpile is a sort of stirrup and spur in a Calabrian dialect, possibly named for its shape. Most Romance languages have adopted metaphorical euphemisms as the chief words for the penis; as in Mexican Spanish and Argentine Spanish verga, obscene for penis, and in Romanian vargă (although pulă is far more common), Catalan, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese verga, French verge, from Latin virga, "staff".

Cōleī: the testicles

The basic word for the testicles in Latin was cōleī (singular: cōleus). It had an alternative, consonant-stem form cōleōnēs (singular: cōleō), in later Latin sometimes culiō, culiōnēs, that is sparsely attested in Classical Latin; this, however, is the productive word in Romance.


The etymology of cōleī is obscure. Tucker, without explanation, gives *qogh-sleǐ-os (*kwogh-sley-os?), and relates it to cohum, an obscure word for "yoke".


Cōleī does not appear to have been offensive to the degree that words like mentula or futuō were. Cicero's letters refer to the honesti colei Lanuvini; the chaste Lanuvian testicles, which may have been a foodstuff, or perhaps wine in a wineskin; his description of them as honesti indicates that the word was acceptable in "decent" company.

On the other hand, a Pompeian graffito quotes what may have been a folk saying: seni supino colei culum tegunt: "when an old man lies down, his testicles cover his butthole." This may have been a proverb, and constitutes ribald humour; it does not demonstrate that the word was considered particularly obscene.

Synonyms and metaphors

The primary decent word in Latin for cōleī was testēs (sing. testis). This word may have derived (although the etymology is uncertain[2]) from the plain Latin for "witnesses" (as in English attest, testify, testament and testimony); a man swore an oath upon what he held dearest; or, his testicles were witnesses to his virility. Cicero's letter again says "testes" verbum honestissimum in iudicio, alio loco non nimis. ("In a court of law, witnesses is a quite decent word; not so elsewhere.") The diminutive testiculī was entirely confined to the anatomical sense, and supplied the English word testicles and testicular, as well as its Romance equivalents.

In the Romance languages

Cōleōnēs is productive in most of the Romance languages: cf. Italian coglioni, French couilles, couillons; Portuguese colhões, Galician collóns, collois, collós, Catalan collons, Sardinian cozzones, Romanian coi, coaie, Spanish cojones (now a loanword in English).

Cunnus: the vulva

Cunnus was the basic Latin word for the vulva. The Priapeia mention it in connection with mentula, above.


Cunnus has a distinguished Indo-European lineage. It is cognate with Persian kun "anus" and kos "vulva", and with Greek κύσθος (kusthos). Tucker relates it to Indo-European *kut-nos, which suggests a word meaning "split" (cf. English crack). The Indo-European origin of this word is supported by the fact that it appears in the Slavic languages, as in the Czech kunda also Persian gosha "splitting" and kos "vulva".[citation needed]

Eric Partridge's Origins, by contrast, relates it to a reconstructed IE *kuzdhos, and also calls attention to the Hittite kun, "tail", and suggests cognates among the Afro-Asiatic languages.


Cicero's letters[citation needed] confirm once again its obscene status. Cicero writes:

. . . cum autem nobis non dicitur, sed nobiscum? quia si ita diceretur, obscaenius concurrerent litterae.
("We don't say cum nobis ["with us"], but rather nobiscum; if we said it the other way, the letters would run together in a rather obscene way.")

Because the /m/ of cum assimilates to the /n/ of nobis, and because the accent was weaker in Latin than in English, cum nobis (although stressed on the middle syllable) sounds very similar to cunno bis (stressed on the first syllable), meaning "in/from/with a cunt twice".

The word cunnilingus also occurs in literary Latin, and is found once in Catullus and more frequently in Martial; it denotes the person who performs the action, not the action itself as in modern English, where it is not obscene but technical. Cunnilingus, in English, is the act of using the mouth and tongue to stimulate the female genitals, particularly the clitoris, the most sensitive part of the female genitalia. The term comes from the Latin word for the vulva (cunnus) and the verb "to lick" (linguere, cf. lingua "tongue").

Horace's Sermones I.2 and I.3 use the word:

Nam fuit ante Helenam cunnus taeterrima belli
causa. . .

which attributes, metaphorically (or more accurately through synecdoche), the cause of the Trojan War to Helen of Troy's vulva.

Synonyms and metaphors

These include sinus, "indentation", and fossa, "ditch".

The modern scientific or polite words vulva and vagina both stem from Latin, but originally they had different meanings. The word vagina is the Latin word for scabbard or sword-sheath.

Vulva (or volva) signifed the uterus. The meanings of vagina and vulva have changed by means of metaphor and metonymy, respectively.

In the Romance languages

Cunnus is preserved in almost every Romance language: e.g. French con, Catalan cony, Spanish coño, Galician cona, Portuguese cona, (South) Sardinian cunnu, Old Italian cunna. In Calabrian dialects the forms cunnu (m.) and cunna (f.) are used as synonyms of "stupid, dumb". In Portuguese it has been transferred to the feminine gender; the form cunna is also attested in Pompeian graffiti and in some late Latin texts.

Landīca: the clitoris

The ancient Romans had medical knowledge of the clitoris, and their native word for it was landīca. This appears to have been one of the most obscene words in the entire Latin lexicon. It is alluded to, but does not appear, in literary sources, except in the Priapeia 79, which calls it misella landica, the "poor little clitoris". It does, however, appear in graffiti.


The ultimate etymology of landīca is unknown.


Not even the poets Catullus and Martial, whose frankness is notorious, ever refer to landīca. In a letter to a friend,[3] Cicero discusses which words in Latin are potentially obscene or subject to obscene punning, and there hints at the word landīca by quoting an unintentionally obscene utterance made in the senate:

. . . hanc culpam maiorem an illam dicam?
"shall I say that this or that was the greater fault?" with illam dicam echoing the forbidden word. Note that the "m" at the end of "illam" was pronounced like "n" before the following "d."

The word landīca is found in Roman graffiti: peto [la]ndicam fvlviae ("I seek Fulvia's clitoris") appears on a leaden projectile found at Perugia,[4] while a derivative word is found in Pompeii: evpla laxa landicosa;[5] it is not clear here whether landicosa meant that Eupla had an unusually strong libido or a large clitoris.[citation needed] A large clitoris was an object of horror and fascination to the ancient Romans[citation needed]; Martial's epigram I.90 alludes to a woman who uses her clitoris as a penis in a lesbian encounter (

Synonyms and metaphors

Allusions to the clitoris in the Satires of Juvenal call it crista, "crest".

In the Romance languages

Landīca survived in Old French landie (extremely rare), and in Romanian lindic.

Cūlus: the anus

The basic Latin word for the anus was cūlus.[6] The word was not considered quite as offensive as mentula or cunnus, but does appear in Roman ribaldry. The word is relatively common, and is productive in Romance.


Cūlus may be an o-grade of Indo-European kel-, which describes a covering; compare Latin celare, "to conceal." This etymology is problematic, though, and Adams says that its origin is obscure.


Cūlus was applied to the anus of both man and beast; the cūlus of a horse is described in Cato the Elder's De Agri Cultura. Martial 11.21 speaks of a cūlus aēnī, "the bronze asshole", as on a statue.

Synonyms and metaphors

The more seemly Latin word for the buttocks was clūnēs (singular clūnis); this word was generally more decent than cūlus, and older, as well: it has several Indo-European cognates. Ānus was the name for the posterior opening of the digestive tract; the word is not specific to that usage, but instead originally meant "ring". Its anatomical sense drove out its other meanings, and for this reason the diminutive annulus became the usual Latin name for a ring or circle.[7][8]

A curious example of the usage of "ring" as a metaphor being kept (or most likely, having resurfaced) in a modern Romance language can be found in Brazilian Portuguese slang, as the word anel can have the same double meaning, especially in the expression o anel de couro (the leather ring). "Ring" is also British slang for "anus".

In the Romance languages

Cūlus has been preserved, meaning the buttocks rather than the anus, in most of the Romance languages, except for Portuguese, which kept the original semantics. It yields the forms culo in Spanish and Italian; in French and Catalan it becomes cul, in Romanian cur, in Vegliot Dalmatian čol, in Sardinian culu, in Portuguese cu and in Galician . Its offensiveness varies from one language to another; in French it was incorporated into ordinary words and expressions such as culottes, "breeches", and cul-de-sac.

Merda: feces

Merda is the basic Latin word for excrement. Frequently used, it appears in most of the Romance languages. Excreta, literally "things expelled", referred most frequently to feces but could describe any bodily excretion. In its modern technical use, excreta is generally used to encompass fecal matter and urine.


Merda represents Indo-European *s-merd-, whose root sense was likely "something malodorous." It is cognate with German Mist (dung), Russian "смердеть" ("to stink") and Polish śmierdzieć ( "to stink").


The word merda is attested in classical texts mostly in veterinary and agricultural contexts, meaning "manure". Cato the Elder uses it, as well as stercus, while the Mulomedicina Chironis speaks of merda bubula, "cattle manure". But Martial 3.17 uses it in its typical metaphorical sense, speaking of inedible cooking:

Sed nemo potuit tangere: merda fuit.
But nobody could touch it: it was shit.

Synonyms and metaphors

The politer terms for merda in Classical Latin were stercus (gen. stercoris), "manure" and fĭmus, "filth." Stercus was used frequently in the Vulgate, as in its well known translation of Psalm 113:7:

Suscitans a terra inopem, et de stercore erigens pauperem.
("He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth the needy out of the dunghill." KJV)

In the Romance languages

Merda is productive in the Romance languages, and is the obvious etymon of French merde, Spanish mierda, Galician merda, Catalan merda and in Vegliot Dalmatian miarda. It is preserved unaltered in Italian, Sardinian and Portuguese. It was preserved in Romanian too, not for feces, where căcat (derived from caco) is used instead, but in the word dezmierda, originally meaning "to clean the bottom of (an infant)"; subsequently becoming "to cuddle" or "to fondle".[9]

Futuere: intercourse

Decorative scene in the baths.

Futuō, infinitive futuere, perfect futuī, past participle futūtum, Latin for "to copulate", is richly attested and useful. Not only the word itself, but also derived words such as perfututum, which could be translated "totally fucked", and dēfutūta, "fucked out, exhausted from intercourse", are attested in Classical Latin literature. The derived noun futūtiō, "act of intercourse", also exists in Classical Latin, and the nomen agentis futūtor, corresponding to the English epithet "fucker", also derives from that word.


Theories are:

  • Akin to battuere, "to beat"; this metaphor has a long Indo-European heritage. Battuere itself may be a late borrowing from Germanic.
  • Tucker's dictionary invites comparison with cōnfūtō, "suppress" or "beat down".
  • From *fūtus (4th decl.), a verbal noun from root fu-, Indo-European bhu ("be", "become"), and originally may have referred to intercourse for procreation.


Futuō is richly attested in all its forms in Latin literature. It is in itself used metaphorically in Catullus 6, which speaks of latera ecfutūta, funds exhausted, literally "fucked away." Catullus 41 speaks of a puella dēfutūta, a girl exhausted from sexual activity; while Catullus 29 similarly speaks of a mentula diffutūta, a penis similarly worn out.

Futuō, unlike "fuck", was more frequently used in erotic and celebratory senses rather than derogatory ones or insults. A woman of Pompeii wrote the graffito fututa sum hic ("I got laid here") and prostitutes, canny at marketing, appear to have written other graffiti complimenting their customers for their sexual prowess: Felix bene futuis ("Lucky boy, you have fucked well"); Victor bene valeas qui bene futuis ("Victorious, best wishes to one who has fucked well"), with futuis corresponding to classical futuisti. It is famously used erotically in Catullus 32:

sed domi maneas paresque nobis
novem continuas fututiones.
("but you remain at home and prepare for us nine acts of fucking, one after the other.")[citation needed]

Futuō in its active voice was used of women only when it was imagined that they were taking the active role thought appropriate to the male partner by the Romans. The woman in Martial VII:

Ipsarum tribadum tribas, Philaeni
recte, quo futuis, vocas amicam

is described as a tribas, a lesbian.

Synonyms and metaphors

The aggressive sense of English "fuck" and "screw" was not strongly attached to futuō in Latin. Instead, these senses attached themselves to pēdīcāre and irrumāre, "to sodomise" and "to force fellatio", respectively, which were used with famous hostility in Catullus 16:

Pedicabo ego vos et irrumabo,
Aureli pathice et cinaede Furi,
qui me ex versiculis meis putastis,
quod sunt molliculi, parum pudicum.
("I will bugger and facefuck you, faggot Aurelius and pervert Furius, because you thought me indecent because my poems are somewhat sissified.")

Pēdīcāre is often thought to be a Greek loanword in Latin (from the noun παιδικά (paidika) "boyfriend"), but the long "i" is an obstacle. Other more neutral synonyms for futuō in Latin include coeō, coīre, literally "to go with," whence Latin and English coitus.

Note: Irrumāre, which in English is denoted by the passive construction "to be sucked", is an active verb in Latin, since the irrumator was considered to be the active partner, the fellator the passive. Irrumātiō is the counterpart of fellatio; in Roman terms, which are the opposite way round to modern conceptions, the giver of oral sex inserts his penis into the mouth of the receiver.

In the Romance languages

Futuō, a core item of the lexicon, lives on in most of the Romance languages, sometimes with its sense somewhat weakened: Catalan fotre, French foutre, Spanish joder, Portuguese foder, Galician foder, Romanian fute (futere), Italian fottere. A famous ribald song in Old Occitan sometimes attributed to the troubadour William IX of Aquitaine reads:

Tant las fotei com auziretz:
Cen e quatre vint et ueit vetz,
Q'a pauc no-i rompei mos corretz
E mos arnes
("I fucked them as much as you will hear: a hundred and eighty-eight times. I most nearly broke my equipment -- and my tool.")

Cēvēre and crīsāre

Cēveō (cēvēre, cēvī) and crīsō (crīsāre etc.) are basic Latin obscenities that have no exact English equivalents. Crīsō referred to the actions of the female partner in sexual intercourse (i.e. grinding or riding on a penis); as in English, futuō, often translated "fuck", primarily referred to the male action (i.e. thrusting, pounding, slamming). Cēveō referred to the similar activity of the passive partner in anal sex.


Both of these verbs are of fairly obscure origin.

Unlike most of the vocabulary of homosexuality in Latin (paedicāre, pathicus, cinaedus), cēveō seems not to be of Greek origin. Francis A. Wood relates it to an Indo-European root *kweu- or *qeu-, relating to a variety of back and forth motions.

Crīsāre may relate to Indo-European *(s)kreit-, *(s)ker-, "to twist, turn, or bend".


Cēveō always refers to a male taking the passive role in anal sex. Martial 3.95 contains the phrase "sed pulchre, Naevole, ceves." ("But you wiggle your arse so prettily, Naevolus.") On the other hand crīsō appears to have had a similar meaning, but to have been used of the female. Again Martial 10.68:

Numquid, cum crisas, blandior esse potes?
Tu licet ediscas totam referasque Corinthon,
Non tamen omnino, Laelia, Lais eris.
("Could you possibly be prettier as you grind? You learn easily, and could do everything they do in Corinth; but you'll never be Lais, Laelia.")
Note: Corinth was the site of a major temple of Aphrodite; the temple employed more than a thousand cult prostitutes.

Synonyms and metaphors

These words have few synonyms or metaphors, and belong almost to a sort of technical vocabulary.

In the Romance languages

Both words seem to have been lost in Romance.

Cacāre: to defecate

Cacō, cacāre was the chief Latin word for defecation.


The word has a distinguished Indo-European parentage, which may perhaps relate to nursery words or children's slang that tends to recur across many different cultures. It would appear to be cognate with the Greek noun κοπρος, kopros, meaning "poop." It also exists in Germanic; English "poppiecock" derives from Dutch pappe kak, "diarrhea". It exists in Spanish, Catalan, Portuguese, Italian (cacca), Hebrew, Hungarian, Romanian, German, British English and French as well, caca being childish slang for excrement (similar to American English "poop"), a word whose level of obscene loading varies from country to country.


Catullus 23 contains the lines:

Culus tibi purior salillo est,
nec toto decies cacas in anno.
("Your arse is purer than the salt-cellar; you probably only take a dump ten times a year.")

Catullus 36 contains the lines:

Annales Volusi, cacata carta,
("Annals of Volusus, letters which have been defecated on,")--i.e. "worthless writings".

Synonyms and metaphors

While cacō, like any other word relating to malodorous bodily functions, is used scurrilously and abusively in Latin literature, the word cacāre in its literal sense may not have been deeply offensive to the Romans (as opposed to e.g. 'cunire'). Few synonyms are attested in Classical Latin; the word dēfēcāre comes much later. (In Classical Latin, faex, plural faecēs, meant the dregs, such as are found in a bottle of wine; the word did not acquire the sense of feces until later.)

In the Romance languages

Cacāre is preserved unaltered in Sardinian and the southern Italian dialects (e.g. Calabrian and the dialects of Basilicata), and with little alteration in Italian (cagare). It becomes Galician, Catalan, Spanish, and Portuguese cagar, in Vegliot Dalmatian kakuor, in French chier, and in Romanian as căcare (the act of taking a dump) or a (se) căca. (Feces are referred to as caca in French, Catalan, Romanian (besides căcat) and Spanish childhood slang, while Portuguese and Romanian use the very same word with the general meaning of anything that looks or smells malodorous or reminiscent of excrement.) German kacken, Dutch kakken, Czech kakat, Lithuanian kakoti, Russian какать (kakat'), Icelandic kúka, Bosnian kakiti etc. are all slang words meaning "to defecate", most of them having roughly the same level of severity as the English expression "take a dump".

Pēdere: fart

Pēdō, pēdere, pepēdī (or pepidī), pēditum is the basic Latin word for fart.


The word's antiquity and membership in the core inherited vocabulary is made manifest by its reduplicating perfect stem. It is cognate with Greek πέρδομαι (perdomai), English fart, Bulgarian prdi, Polish pierdzieć, Russian пердеть (perdet'), Sanskrit pardate, and Avestan pərəδaiti, all of which mean the same thing.


The word pōdex was synonymous with cūlus, "buttocks" (see above); this o-stem version of the root identified it as the source of flatulence. In the Sermones 1.8, 46, Horace writes:

Nam, displosa sonat quantum vesica, pepedi
diffissa nate ficus. . .
Christopher Smart translates this passage as “from my cleft bum of fig-tree I let a fart, which made as great an explosion as a burst bladder”. The "I" of this satire is the god Priapus, and Smart explains that he was made of fig-tree wood which split through being poorly prepared.

Synonyms and metaphors

Pēdō was the core word for the act of farting. The noise made by escaping flatulence was usually called crepitus, vaguely "a noise" or "a creak".

In the Romance languages and English

Pēdere and pēditum survive in Romance. In French, the verb péter and the noun pet are quite productive. In Catalan, the verb is petar-se and the noun is pet. In Spanish the noun pedo as well as the verbs peerse and pedorrear are similarly derived. Portuguese peido and peidar(-se), (-dei) and Galician peido and peidar(se) are related. Italian peto is less common than scoreggia and its derived verb scoreggiare.

The English word petard, found mostly in the cliché "hoist with his own petard", comes from an early explosive device whose noise was likened to the sound of breaking wind. English also has petomania for a performance of musical farting, and petomane for the performer, after Le Pétomane, a French performer active in the early 20th century.[10]

Mingere and meiere: urination

Mingō (infinitive mingere) and meiō (infinitive meiere) are two variant forms of what is likely a single Latin verb meaning "to urinate", or in more vulgar usage, "to take a piss." The two verbs share a perfect mixī or mīnxī, and a past participle mictum or minctum. It is likely that mingō represents a variant conjugation of meiō with a nasal infix.

In Classical Latin, the form mingō was more common than meiō. In some Late Latin texts a variant first conjugation form meiāre is attested. This is the form that is productive in Romance.

The Classical Latin word micturīre became the accepted medical word meaning "to urinate". It is the source of the English medical term "micturition reflex".


Meiere is an inherited Indo-European word. It likely relates to Indo-European *meigh-, "to sprinkle" or "to wet"; compare Old English miscian, "to mix", or Modern English "mash" (infusion of malt in water for brewing). Sanskrit has mehati, "it urinates"; Persian miz, "urine"; Macedonian моча (mocha), "he/she urinates" and мокри (mokri), "he/she wets/urinates"; Greek ὀμείχειν (omeikhein), "to urinate"; Polish miazga, "sap".


Martial's epigram 3.78 uses meiere and ūrīna to make a mixed language pun:

Minxisti currente semel, Pauline, carina.
Meiere vis iterum? Iam Palinurus eris.
("Once you pissed off the side of a boat, Paulinus. Do you want to piss again? then you will be Palinurus.")
(Note that palin is a Greek root meaning "once again." Palinurus was Aeneas's navigator who was thrown overboard in the Aeneid.)

Synonyms and metaphors

The basic Latin noun for "urine" was lōtium. This word relates to lavāre, "to wash". The Romans, innocent of soap, collected urine as a source of ammonia to use in laundering clothes. Also, Egnatius, a Celtiberian who washes his teeth with urine, is the subject of one of Catullus's poems. The word ūrīna, of course, is also attested in Latin, and became the usual polite term. The relationship with the Greek verb οὐρέω (oureō), "to urinate", is not clear.

In the Romance languages

Though mingō represents the most common Classical Latin form, meiāre seems to have been the popular form. This underlies Galician mexar, Portuguese mijar and Spanish mear. *Pissare represents a borrowing from the Germanic languages, and appears elsewhere in the Romance territory, as in French pisser, Catalan pixar, Italian pisciare and Romanian a (se) pişa.

Latin words relating to prostitution

Compared to the anatomical frankness of the Roman vocabulary about sexual acts and body parts, the Roman vocabulary relating to prostitution seems euphemistic and metaphorical.

The most unambiguous Latin word for "to prostitute oneself" is scortor, scortārī, which occurs chiefly in Plautus. This word may relate to Latin scorteus, "made of leather or hide", much as English refers to the skin trade; or it may be a pure pejorative related to Greek σκῶρ, σκατός, "shit". Plautus illustrates its use in Amphitryon (play):

Quando mecum pariter potant, pariter scortari solent,
Hanc quidem, quam nactus, praedam pariter cum illis partiam.
("When they go out drinking and whoring, I'll certainly want a piece of that action myself.")

Prostitutes were called meretrīx, "earner", and lupa, "she-wolf"; a brothel was a lupānar; these words referred to the mercantile and perceived predatory activities of prostitutes. The Latin word prōstituō had a root meaning of "to expose for public sale." The word glūbō, glūbere, glūpsī, glūptus meant "to peel", and by extension, "to rob"; it was often used of prostitutes; compare English she took him to the cleaners.

The important and productive words for a prostitute, *puta or *putāna, are not attested in Classical Latin, despite their many Romance derivatives: French putain and pute, Italian puttana, Spanish (and Filipino), Catalan, Portuguese and Galician puta. Under French linguists point of view, they seem to relate to Latin puteō, putēre, "to stink," and thus to represent yet another metaphor.[citation needed]. Spaniards María Moliner (author of the famous dictionary of Spanish) and Joan Coromines think they came from Vulgar Latin putta, femenine form of puttus, superlative (as adjective) form of putus, "pure", "boy". In Portugal, the word puto has the same connotation as "small kid" or "little boy". And in Romanian childhood slang "puţă" means penis or vagina.

Latin profanity in popular culture

The HBO/BBC2 original television series Rome depicts the city with the grit and grime that is often absent from earlier productions, including that of language. But since the actors speak English, Latin profanity is mostly seen in written graffiti, such as:

  • ATIA FELLAT, "Atia sucks"; "fellatio" is a noun derived from this verb.
  • ATIA AMAT OMNES, "Atia loves all [men]". Thus calling her a whore or slut.
  • CAESARI SERVILIA FUTATRIX, "Servilia is Caesar's bitch".

However, the character Titus Pullo says "cack!" occasionally when irritated, most likely a derivative of caco above.

See also

-- (talk) 16:03, 18 November 2011 (UTC)== Notes ==

  1. ^ See, e.g., Jean-Benoît Nadeau, Julie Barlow, The Story of French, p. 233 (Macmillan, 2006: ISBN 0312341830, ISBN 9780312341831)
  2. ^ Oxford English Dictionary Second Edition 1989: testis, sense 2: the 'witness' explanation is rejected by Walde (Lateinisches etymologisches Worterbuch 1906), who suggests connexion with testa, pot, shell, etc. However, see entry on "testicle" in this encyclopedia. Also, compare the Greek παραστάτης, "one who stands beside," as a legal and an anatomical term. In 16th century French, however, tesmoing meaning ‘witness’ appears in this sense: see Godefroy, F Dictionnaire de l'ancienne langue française et de tous ses dialectes du ix-eme au xv-eme siècle 1881–1902
  3. ^ Cicero, Epistolae ad Familiares, 9.22
  4. ^ Raffaele Garrucci, Sylloge inscriptionum Latinarum aevi Romanae rei publicae..., Paravia 1875, p. 318.
  5. ^ Antonio Varone, Erotica Pompeiana: Love Inscriptions on the Walls of Pompeii, 2002, ISBN 888265124X, p. 147.
  6. ^ Adams, p. 110.
  7. ^ Martim de Albuquerque (1873). Notes and Queries. Original from the University of Michigan: Oxford University Press. p. 119. 
  8. ^ An Irish-English Dictionary. Original from Oxford University: J. Duffy. 1864. p. 7. 
  9. ^ "Dex Online". Retrieved 2010-03-02. 
  10. ^ These terms are not yet recognised by the OED, but featured in an article in The Guardian in the 1960s, and are discussed.


Primary literary sources are discussed in text. Many of the graffiti discussed are found in the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum.

  • The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th edition, 2000)
  • James N. Adams, The Latin Sexual Vocabulary (Johns Hopkins, 1990) ISBN 0-8018-2968-2
  • Dictionnaire Hachette de la Langue Française (Hachette, 1995) ISBN 0-317-45629-6
  • T. G. Tucker, Etymological Dictionary of Latin (Halle, 1931, repr. Ares Publishers, 1985) ISBN 0-89005-172-0
  • Francis A. Wood. "The IE. Root '*Qeu'-: 'Nuere, Nutare, Cevere; Quatere, Cudere; Cubare, Incumbere.' II" In Modern Philology, vol. 17, p. 567 ff. (Univ. Chicago, 1905)
  • Fisher, John. The lexical affiliations of Vegliote (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1976) ISBN 0-8386-7796-7
  • Smart, Christopher. Quinti Horatii Flacci Opera, with a literal translation into English Prose (London, Sampson Low, 1882)

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