A word for it

Over on Facebook, Arne Adolfsen reported an entertaining semantic extension on Wonkette, in a story on a parody video showing a panda performing oral sex on (performing cunnilingus on, going down on, giving head to) Hillary Clinton:

Here at Wonket, we are pretty grateful for FreedomWorks. They’re like the snotty libertarian half-brother of grownup GOP PACs. Their notorious infighting devolved into a downright theater of the absurd when Dick Armey showed up WITH GUNS to remove top employees. Way to make office politics interesting, Dick! Speaking of interesting…ok, you know what? We’ve got no way to make this sound even more crazy than it actually is, so we’ll just dive in and tell you about the FreedomWorks parody video featuring a panda fellating Hillary Clinton

That’s fellate, extended to use for direct objects referring to women as well as men; that is, it takes on the sex-neutral syntax of perform oral sex ongo down on, and give head to. And it has the advantage of brevity: it’s a single word rather than a phrasal lexical item.

It turns out that, as several commenters on Facebook noted, English already has (in some sense of have) a one-word verb for this purpose: gamahuche. But hardly anyone knows it, and no one uses it these days; it comes with the whiff of the 19th century.

To explain the Wonkette reference, here’s their quote:

An internal investigation of FreedomWorks—the prominent conservative advocacy group and super-PAC—has focused on president Matt Kibbe’s management of the organization, his use of its resources, and a controversial book deal he signed, according to former FreedomWorks officials who have met with the private lawyers conducting the probe. One potential topic for the inquiry is a promotional video produced last year under the supervision of Adam Brandon, executive vice president of the group and a Kibbe loyalist. The video included a scene in which a female intern wearing a panda suit simulates performing oral sex on Hillary Clinton. [Author’s note: The previous sentence contains no typos.]

On to gamahuche. From OED2 on the verb:

Pronunciation:  /ˈɡæməhuːʃ/
Forms:  Also gamaruche.
Etymology:  < French gamahucher.
trans. To practise fellatio or cunnilingus (with); also intr. Also as n.

The first two cites are from classic 19th-century erotica:

1865   E. Sellon New Epicurean (1875) 13   ‘Quick, quick, Blanche!’ cried Cerise, ‘come and gamahuche the gentleman.’

1867   E. Sellon Ups & Downs of Life 91 in H. S. Ashbee Index Librorum Prohibitorum (1877) 389   Augusta would strip naked, place herself in any attitude, let me gamahuche her, would gamahuche in her turn.

I’ve found nothing about “E. Sellon”, but these two quotes are nice. The first has gamahuche referring to fellatio, the second has the verb in its broader sense.

Given that gamahuche is an obsolete lexical item, it makes sense to extend the existing useful verb fellate to sex-neutral function. Make good use of what you’ve got.

Yes, it was surprising to me as well as Arne. But then that’s the way of semantic extensions; they’re noticeable when you first come across them.


3 Responses to “A word for it”

  1. Bob Richmond Says:

    I’ve often wondered how to pronounce it – Wiktionary /ˈɡæməhuːʃ/ – somewhere I read that it may derive from a Japanese word gamaguchi ‘purse’. Sounds sort of Muskogean to me – can’t you just hear the banjos ringin’ as somebody’s a-singin’ “Way down upon the Gamahoochee”….

  2. arnold zwicky Says:

    From archivist Michael Palmer on Facebook:

    E. Sellon = Edward Sellon (1818-1866), as the DNB would put it “soldier, libertine, and man of letters”, who in addition to erotica also published several books and articles on Hindu religion, in particular its sexual aspects (Wikipedia link).

  3. Samantha N. Says:

    Describing what the panda was doing to “Hillary” as “fellating” appears to have been something Wonkette originally got from the Mother Jones article, which must later have been edited. The article’s seventh paragraph now begins:

    “In one segment of the film, according to a former official who saw it, Brandon is seen waking from a nap at his desk. In what appears to be a dream or a nightmare, he wanders down a hallway and spots a giant panda on its knees with its head in the lap of a seated Hillary Clinton and apparently performing oral sex on the then-secretary of state.”

    But many blog posts which quote the article (for example, http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2013/02/14/conservatives-have-issues-part-one-million/) feature the same paragraph with “fellating” in place of “performing oral sex.” MoJo did update the article to note the video was probably referencing a similar scene in The Shining, but the update doesn’t mention if they clarified any of its language. My suspicion is that the author of the MoJo article really has expanded “fellate” to describe oral sex on a vulva, but that someone realized later that this was likely to confuse people as to what the video actually depicted. (For example, the Raw Story article linked describes the video as “transphobic,” an accusation that makes no sense unless the blogger inferred from the word “fellating” that the video’s “Hillary” was implied to have a penis. This was my assumption as well, since to me “fellating” is something you can only do to a phallus.)

    Long story short, I think it’s too early to herald the gender-neutralization of “fellate.”

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