(On sexual vocabulary and its uses, but not in street language.)

Back a few days, in my sexy-playful posting “Magnitude boys” (underwear with captions), the Rocky character calls out (to two other men), “Move over boys, Daddy needs nookie!” What he wants is sexual intercourse, but he’s saying this playfully. He could have used much earthier and more direct phrasing (and he could also have been more specific about what role he wanted to take in intercourse), but he chose instead to use the lighthearted, even sweet, word nookie (variant spellings nooky, nookey, nookee).

Three things about the word: its range of meanings (narrowly focused on sexual matters); its etymology (disputed and unclear, but culturally fascinating); and its penumbra of associations, which makes it sound “cute”, so much so that it can be used (albeit still with sexual overtones) in the name of an Australian brand of clothing for hip young women, Nookie Nation (with its cheeky mascot, the Nookie Girl).

One: meanings. The very condensed version, from OED3 (Dec. 2003):

Orig. uncertain.  slang (orig. U.S.).  1. A woman considered as a sexual object. Usu. considered offensive. [1928 on]. 2. Sexual intercourse. [1930 on]

These two senses appear at virtually the same time, and in fact Green’s Dictionary of Slang dates them both back to 1928, but with a suggestion that the ‘sexual intercourse’ sense might be considerably older. In any case, the two senses are closely tied: the sexual act and (in conventional heterosexual usage) the person in the patient (rather than agent) role in that act, treated as defined entirely by performing that role.

The expansion of this account in Green:

1 (orig. US) sexual intercourse [first regular cite 1928]

2 (orig. US) (also piece of nookie) a woman seen as no more than an object of possible seduction [first cite 1928]

3 (orig. US) the vagina [first cite 1968]

4 (US gay) the anus [the only cite is from The Queens’ Vernacular (1972) by the pseudonymous “Bruce Rodgers”]

Though senses 1-3 are marked as originally U.S., they have clearly spread throughout the English-speaking world.

Sense 3 is a metonymy, but with an extension from whole (the entire woman) to part (her vagina), the opposite direction from the most usual extension in these matters, seen in (for example) the development of cunt, from part (the vagina) to whole (a woman considered as a sexual object, a woman viewed derisively or as worthless).

Sense 4 is a very common metaphorical extension of sexual vocabulary — from applying to women to applying to gay men, in this case with the anus seen as the counterpart of the vagina.

Two: etymology. The OED leaves things at “uncertain”, but Green is willing to speculate, listing two main possibilities —

? nug v. or Du. sl. neuken, to fuck

— but adding (for its sense 1) a possible precedent in a 1868 quote with “John Nugi” or “Johnnie Nookee”, deriving this from Japanese carnal practices with women.

For nug, Green has:

[dial. nog, to jog with the elbow, to strike [from Latin]] to fondle, to indulge in sexual foreplay, to have sexual intercourse. [first cite c1505]

To these, the Wikipedia summary of uses for nookie adds (alas, without citing any source):

British Army slang for vagina, from Arabic niki

The British Army slang is entirely plausible, but the Arabic etymology is almost surely spurious; it was probably inserted by a Wikipedia writer who had come across an Arabic word transliterated as niki or nikki that also had a sexual meaning (perhaps ‘fuck’). But /nUki/ is only somewhat similar phonetically to the Arabic word, and accidental similarities between words in different languages are surprisingly common.

All of these etymological speculations lack a trail of citations in their sociocultural contexts that would make them plausible. Etymology is hard, requiring a broad knowledge of texts and a broad cultural background needed to understand those texts in their social setttings, and such knowledge is notoriously hard to come by for slang vocabulary. Latin, Dutch, Japanese, Arabic, whatever — no one has yet come even close to nailing down an actual history for nookie; apparently we know virtually nothing about its history before 1928.

Some cultural history. Once in the language as slang, nookie has been put to all sorts of cultural work. The Wikipedia summary piece gives a number of these uses:

Two straightforwardly sexual uses in songs:

“Nookie”, a 1999 song by Limp Bizkit

“Nookie”, a 2004 song by Jacki-O, also known as “Pussy (Real Good)”

Plus, in another song:

“Nookie Wood,” a song by John Cale from his 2012 album, Shifty Adventures in Nookie Wood; the reference seems to be to the noun nook, especially as a place of seclusion or safety.

NOAD2: a corner or recess, especially one offering seclusion or security: the nook beside the fire. ORIGIN Middle English (denoting a corner or fragment): of unknown origin

Also, further afield:

Nookie Bear, a puppet handled by British ventriloquist Roger De Courcey


Roger De Courcey (born 10 December 1944 in London, England) is a British ventriloquist, best known for performing with Nookie Bear. (Wikipedia link)

And the Nittany [National Penn] Bank Nookie Monster, mascot of the minor-league baseball team State College Spikes (in State College PA):


(The Nookie Monster  in #2 is clearly based on the Muppet Cookie Monster; the origins of De Courcey’s Nookie Bear are less clear to me.)

So much for items cited by Wikipedia. Now we go to Australia, noting first that nookie ‘sexual activity, intercourse’ appears in the Australian Slang Dictionary on-line; the word found its way to Oz a while ago, and it still has its sexual tinge, but now it’s “cute” and kicky. First, the Café Nookie, whose on-line ad says, somewhat racily:

NOOKIE: GET SOME. 268 Cleveland St, Surry Hills NSW 2010 Australia. We’re a shoebox-sized, hole-in-the-wall café that does it better than others more than twice our size! We serve insanely great coffee, cakes, sandwiches and pastries. Attitude at no extra charge.

And then there’s Nookie Nation:


Their head office is at 16-22 Dick St. (they seem to be proud of this address), Chippendale NSW 2008 Australia. From their site:

Cheeky, wearable and effortlessly cool, the Nookie brand reflects the kind of wanderlust girl you want to be. Bright prints, structural designs and flattering forms enhance the Nookie girl’s natural beauty and style charisma.

Once you live the Nookie lifestyle, there’s no turning back. It means long summer nights, laughing and dancing until your sides hurt, looking and feeling good, and living life in the moment.

Born out of a desire for a head turning yet effortlessly sexy clothing label that could go from beach to bar and back again, Nookie is the creative result of Australian Fashion Designer Nikita Sernack who created the label in 2005. Nikita’s strong direction and understanding of the Nookie girl – thanks to being the ultimate one herself – has seen the brand go from strength-to-strength and hit highs such as showing at multiple Australian Fashion Weeks, being worn by aspirational local and international celebrities and models as well as the creation of super popular swim label, Nookie Beach.

You could be a Nookie girl on Nookie Beach!

Three: the cloud of associations. A variety of elements contribute to the “feel” of the word nookie, prime amongst them the hypocoristic suffix /i/. From Michael Quinion’s affixes site:

y2 Also –ie and –ee. Forming affectionate or pet names, or nouns that imply smallness. [Scots –ie, used in names but of uncertain origin, taken over in Middle English.]

The ending appears in affectionate versions of people’s names (Johnny, Sandy, Tommy), in names for objects or people associated with childhood (dolly, kitty, tummy), in familiar terms of address (ducky, sonny, lovey), or affectionate names for objects (hanky, telly for television in British usage).

The –ie and –y [spellings] exist in parallel in modern English and it is often a matter of taste which is used. As both endings have plurals in –ies (frillies, kiddies, sweeties) there is a tendency for the –ie ending to be taken as the usual singular form, especially in newer creations (Brummie, a person from Birmingham, druggie, a drug-taker, veggie, a vegetarian [or a vegetable]). However, some older words usually take –y: baby, daddy, granny, mummy. Reflecting its Scots origin, certain words associated with Scotland usually take the –ie ending: beastie, laddie, lassie, caddie (in the golfing term; caddy when it is a container of tea).

Common (rather than proper) nouns in /i/ rhyming with nookie: bookie, cookie, hookey, rookie. Except for bookie, not a bad neighborhood to be in.

And then nookie is phonetically very similar — differing only in the feature of voicing — to the very American noun of childhood noogie. From NOAD2:

Amer. informal a hard poke or grind with the knuckles, especially on a person’s head. ORIGIN 1970s: perhaps a diminutive of knuckle.

And finally, there’s the connection to the noun nook (as above), with its vaginal associations and simultaneously its connotations of safety and security.

All of this makes nookie “feel” sweetly racy or racily sweet, in a way that just doesn’t work for cunt (for ‘vagina’) or fuck(ing) (for ‘sexual intercourse’). I mean: cookies, playing hookey, book nooks, kiddies, duckies, etc. So Nookie Monster merely suggests Cookie Monster (with maybe a bit of sexual play), and not a vagina dentata.


2 Responses to “nookie”

  1. arnold zwicky Says:

    From Éamonn McManus on Facebook:

    Peripherally, the French word “niquer” which means “fuck” pretty clearly *does* derive from Arabic, but is not any more likely to be related to “nookie”.

  2. arnold zwicky Says:

    From Robert Coren on Facebook:

    Whenever I see anything about the variations of “-y” and “-ie” endings I think of my favorite moment from “Adam’s Rib”.

    Explanation for those who havseen/don’t remember the movie or the detail: Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn play a married couple who are both lawyers, and each calls the other “Pinky/Pinkie” as a pet name. The mainspring of the plot is a case in which they are on opposite sides, and they get into a shouting match in the courtroom, which the stenographer interrupts to ask about the spelling of the nickname; Hepburn stops in mid-rant to say “Y for him, I-E for me”, and then goes on with whatever she was saying/shouting.

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