Some news not for penises

Despite my well-known interest in penises — in the actual body-parts, in phallic symbols, and  in terms for the penis (starting from the basic slang vocabulary cock and dick and going on from there) — I occasionally feel obliged to point out that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar and quite often an expression with /kak/ in it has nothing to do with penises. That last observation is my topic for this posting.

Background: penis-related Pages on this blog; yes, there are a lot of them. In Lists/Phallicity postings (about phallic symbols):

Phallicity: general (link)
Phallicity: moose-knuckles (link)
Phallicity: The wurst (link)

And in XWriting/XBlog essays:

Angle and curvature [of the erect penis] (link)
Concealing / revealing [the penis in photographs] (link)
Cock tease (link)
Penis size (link)
Pornstar dildos (link)

But now to /kak/ words. Considerable complexity here comes from the history of cock ‘penis’ (first attestation in OED2 from 1618). The authorities are agreed that this use of cock is derived from earlier non-slang senses, which survive today. A consequence of this history is that stopcock, for example, doesn’t have phallic cock in it, but the cock of stopcock and phallic cock aren’t totally unconnected, since the former is the sense ‘spout or short pipe’ (attested in OED2 from the late 15th century) and the second might well be a metaphorical development of that sense (this is OED2’s speculation on the matter), which would make the two senses related collaterally rather than directly — in effect, cousins. Similar things can be said about cocktail (remarkably) and cock and bull story and cock one’s ear / eye / eyebrow vis-a-vis phallic cock. More details below.

In brief, the story starts with Old English cock ‘rooster, male chicken’, with parallels in both Germanic and Romance (cf. French coq), goes on to a development from this of a sense ‘leader, head, chief man’ (attested from 1542 on) — a sense that could then develop into phallic cock by one kind of metonymy, whole for a part — and then the ‘spout, short pipe’ sense, which is where things get murky.

OED2 on this sense and its source:

A spout or short pipe serving as a channel for passing liquids through, and having an appliance for regulating or stopping the flow; a tap.

The origin of the name in this sense is not very clear: the resemblance of some stop-cocks to a cock’s head with its comb, readily suggests itself; but some of the earlier quotations seem to imply that the power of closing the ‘cock’ was no essential feature, i.e. that a cock was not necessarily a stop-cock, but that the word simply meant a short spout for the emission of fluid; in others it appears to be = nozzle or mouthpiece. But in German, hahn has been used in the same sense for an equally long period, and an example of 1503 in Grimm has ‘wenn es (ein kind) einen hän ufgewint, so louft der wein aller aus’ (if the child turns a cock, all the wine runs out), clearly referring to a stop-cock.

Once we’ve gotten to stopcock (NOAD2: ‘an externally operated valve regulating the flow of a liquid or gas through a pipe’), that is, a tap (NOAD2: ‘a device by which a flow of liquid or gas from a pipe or container can be controlled’), aka (N.Amer.) faucet or (U.S.) spigot, or even just a nozzle (NOAD2: ‘a cylindrical or round spout at the end of a pipe, hose, or tube, used to control a jet of gas or liquid’), or even just a pipe, then the way would be clear for a phallic metaphor, since all three objects are routine phallic symbols (note slang lay pipe ‘fuck’). A phallic tap / faucet / spigot:


And three different types of nozzles, all phallic:




You’d think we’d now have a clear shot to the 1618 appearance of phallic cock, but of course all we can know is what people wrote (or what they said that got quoted in print), not why they wrote or said these things — a matter they they are in fact unlikely to have any insight into. So the first people to use phallic cock might well had the precursor sense ‘chief man’ from 1542 (extended by metonymy) in mind or the ‘spout, short pipe’ sense from 1481-90 (extended by metaphor) or even a view of the penis as somehow like some part of a rooster (in particular the showy tail) or a reference to the rooster as an aggressive creature, or some combination of these (nothing says that there can be only one contributor to an innovation).

Words for ‘bird’ being used as slang for the penis have been reported from an enormous number of languages — including the word bird itself (or birdie for a boy’s penis) in various North American dialects of English (especially in the northeast U.S. and adjacent parts of Canada). Note the slang flip the bird for the insulting ‘up your ass’ gesture in which an extended finger serves as a symbol for the penis. And note the remakable story of the word cocktail. From NOAD2:

ORIGIN early 17th cent.: from cock [‘rooster’] + tail [‘hindmost part of an animal’ (esp. as extended by a vertebral appendage) or ‘feathers at the hind end of a bird’]. The original use was as an adjective describing a creature with a tail like that of a cock, specifically a horse with a docked tail; hence (because hunters and coach horses were generally docked) a racehorse that was not a thoroughbred, having a cock-tailed horse in its pedigree (early 19th cent). Sense 1 [the alcoholic drink] (originally US, also early 19th cent.) is perhaps analogous, from the idea of an adulterated spirit [that is, a mixture of ingredients]

One more sense development (specifically British) )from the galline cock, which seems to have appeared too late to play a role in the development of phallic cock. As OED2 rather sniffily puts it:

colloq. one who fights with pluck and spirit; familiar term of approbation among the vulgar

as in things like, “How are you doing, old cock?”. First citation from 1639.

In any case, such uses of cock are not uses of phallic cock, but are parallel to it. That means that none of the following (probably with galline cock) are instances of phallic cock:

verbs: cock a gun, cock one’s ear / eye / eyebrow, cock a snook ‘thumb one’s nose’

adjectives: cockeyed, cocky

nouns: cockpit, cock of the walk, cock and bull story

And the following are unrelated to phallic cock and probably to galline cock as well:

cockatoo, cockatiel; cock-a-doodle-doo, cockamamie, coxswain, cockle (the bivalve), warm the cockles of one’s heart

And there are proper names with /kak/ in them that have nothing to do with penises (or roosters, for that matter): the town of Coxsackie NY, for instance, whose name has its origin in some Native American name, and has now lent its name to the Coxsackievirus. Or the name of one of the two main characters in Gilbert & Sullivan’s Cox and Box. Or the many people with the family name Cox (for instance, Wally Cox and Harvey Cox)

(That doesn’t mean that we can’t play with the words. A number of gay men, like Colby Keller and me, are definitely cockeyed, meaning that we have strong I SEE PENIS tendencies. Several gay porn movies have been made under the titles Cocktails, Cock Tails, and Cock Tales, and two under the title Cockpit. And then there’s the gay porn studio CockyBoys.)



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