Etymologia Sexualis

I offer my humblest apologies to Richard von Krafft-Ebing for the grandiose title I've assigned this entry. Somehow it seemed appropriate, and I couldn't resist--something he'd understand, to be sure.

I love language; indeed it has been the crux of my existence from the get-go. Lately, I have had all sorts of remembrances dating far back to early, early childhood, of being entranced with what words are, what they mean, from where they come, their power and their mystery.

Language, writing, reading are the only magical talismans to have survived the so-called Age of Reason unscathed. Why do you think an incantation is still called a "spell?"

By early high school when I stumbled upon the Marquis de Sade's
Philosophy in the Bedroom, thanks to my diminutive bodyguard and compatriot Sheel-Teat, I was staggered to find extant an entire rich vocabulary to describe libidinous feelings. I had joined an exclusive club. Polysyllables of Greek and Latin roots split the world wide open. The human race was far more diverse than Leave It to Beaver ever hinted at. And there was a language to describe it all, not known to many.

It's not often I quarrel with old Will, but I think he was wrong when he had Juliet say:
"What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;"
In particular, if orgasm had no nomenclature, would it feel the same? Would we crave it as much or at least enjoy it so much, if it couldn't be classified by name? I sincerely doubt it. Without a word, it's little more than instinct, nothing more than a mechanism, popping open the next can of Pepsi to get through the day. Classification gives it power. That's assuredly at the heart of the OTO and Rosicrucianism.

The Marquis really was a genius, you know, not for discovering anything all that new, but rather, for drawing our attention to the bleeding obvious. It was as if society had placed the purloined letter of the sensual world in plain view and only he detected it:  the C. Auguste Dupin of eroticism.

Writers who call our attention to feelings we don't wish to acknowledge are never appreciated.

But in the good old days, ah, before the only true religion--there's only one, you know, established via popular acclaim by an electorate grown weary of ratiocination--before the ball and chain of irrational, inherited beliefs were firmly clamped to the ankles of those unwilling to think for themselves, before Aristotle's Organon became the lavatory paper of extremists who have run this world for the past 2000 years, well...let's just say, before then, there wasn't this weird compulsion to avoid the black jelly beans of life.

That's probably a little too airy for someone who Googled in here by accident. So let me summarize more succinctly:
Religion is stupid, else why do we each have a brain? Surely the cranium wasn't created for esthetics alone.
In more contemplative moments, I have often wondered how different the world would be had religion never been invented. One thing's for sure: a lot more people would have died of cancer, heart attacks, diabetes, ruptured appendices, pneumonia, and so forth, all no doubt preferable in the long run (despite the rather nasty aspects) to what religion has offered. I  don't see burning, stoning or allowing women to perish from lack of legitimate health care as any sort of improvement over those. As near as I can tell, the only death from which religion flees is la petite mort. But back to language.

Age seventeen, on my own at last, in a new hometown, seeking new sensations, starting from first principles, with nudges from works such as The Crack in the Cosmic Egg by Joseph Chilton Pierce, I eventually tripped upon the legend of Aleister Crowley.

So, naturally I immediately ponied up the cash to have B. Dalton Booksellers special order me Walter William Skeat's
An Etymological Dictionary of the English Language. You'll know the reason, if you've studied the Great Beast at all. And then the OED followed immediately thereafter. It was a literal self-perpetuating satyriasis of words, if you'll forgive the pun. Lord Henry once pontificated:
"A cigarette is the perfect type of a perfect pleasure. It is exquisite, and it leaves one unsatisfied. What more can one want?"
That's how I felt about language and what was going on below-decks. The two were made for each other. I am convinced that language was specifically designed for the world of the senses, not the intellect.

My third year in college, I took a brilliant course on the Philosophy of Language from the equally brilliant Professor Hal Walberg. That was back when colleges conducted courses at a collegiate level, sort of a novel concept. Among the many readings he tasked us with was Union College philosopher Robert Baker's Pricks and Chicks: A Plea for Persons. Again and again and again...I was seeing that for some reason there was a very direct bijection between sex and language.

Last winter, I viewed the fine movie Quills, and there it was once more! Words make sensuality and not the other way around. Without words, in prehistory, it was mere instinctual regeneration of the species, sans utterances. Without words, the sublime becomes routine.

A climax is a terrible thing to waste.

Which brings me to today's thought.


Why is it the phrase "oral sex" takes the verb "to perform" as though it was something happening on a stage, requiring direction, blocking, maybe even a dialogue consultant? (Well perhaps the latter is important: look out for those plosives and glottal stops!) Think about it:


"...performed fellatio..."

"...performed cunnilingus..."

Those are the only ways you'll hear them conjugated or declined or whatever the hell the right word is. (We're cursed with such an under-inflected language, aren't we?)


 But coition? Only the infinitive "to have" applies, as in:

"...had coitus..."

Never performed, but had. Sounds kind of dull, doesn't it? I mean if you had a choice of performing it or having it, which would you take? The former Latin derived verb is far more thrilling than the latter humdrum Anglo-Saxon one, isn't it? But what did you expect? Mud-soaked England wasn't exactly a silk-lain and floral-scented boudoir in those days. In any event, the performance arts are far more exhilarating than mere existence.

Or how about this? The verb "to blow," according to the 10th edition of one of the best dictionaries in the world, the
Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary (2001), can be traced backwards inexorably through Middle English, to Old English, to Old High German, to Latin, ultimately to the Greek, phallos meaning a penis. The same reference shows the noun "blow-job" entering the vernacular solidly in 1956. I note that the Editors indicate the phrase is "usually vulgar." It's the modifier "usually" that catches my attention, ever the alert proof-reader I am.

Next installment: The Empty Word 

No comments:

Post a Comment