Lexical adventures: kinks

Recently in Facebook postings from Steven Levine, issues of a Popular Mechanics annual supplement Home Kinks from the 1940s and 1950s, supplying illustrated advice on home maintenance. Two things: some of the covers are entertainingly sexually suggestive, just as pictures. But then there’s the title of the series, with a sense of kink that seems now to have been swamped by the sense ‘mental twist, esp.in sexual matters’; it’s now easy to see these illustrations as images of fetish practices.

Two examples:

(#1) Achieving and maintaining a substantial erection with ordinary household appliances

(#2) Getting spit-roasted at a family picnic; on the verb to spit-roast, culinary and sexual, see my 4/16/13 posting “Yet another synthetic compound / back-formation”

Popular Mechanics has always been heavily guy-oriented, but the Home Kinks issues were designed to appeal especially to housewives.

Figurative uses of the noun kink. From OED2:

a. A mental twist; an odd or fantastic notion; a crotchet, whim. In recent use also = a state of madness; an instance of, the practice of, or suffering resulting from sexual abnormality. [1803 Thomas Jefferson: Should the judges take a kink in their heads; 1812 Jefferson again: Adair too had his kink. He believed all the Indians of America to be descended from the Jews. … The sexual sense is attested from at least 1959]

b. An odd but clever method of doing something; a ‘dodge’, ‘wrinkle’. [only one cite:]

1889 Internat. Ann. Anthonys Photogr. Bull. 110 The hundred and one recent valuable wrinkles, dodges and kinks that float through the photographic press.

(There are also figurative senses referring to human beings: ‘a black person’ Obsolete (from kinky hair); ‘a criminal’ (from being legally deviant, twisted from the straight and narrow path); ‘a sexually abnormal person; one who practises sexual perversions’.)

In b, we can now add the Popular Mechanics cites. The sense seems to have been used in American hobbyist contexts and to have vanished in the later 20th century. It was useful to have a simple expression for the concept — though eventually the noun hack becomes available in computer contexts for something akin to this concept, as in this NOAD entry:

noun hack: 2 informal [a] an act of computer hacking. [b] a piece of computer code providing a quick or inelegant solution to a particular problem: this hack doesn’t work on machines that have a firewall. [c] a strategy or technique for managing one’s time or activities more efficiently: there’s one easy hack to avoid the eight dollar popcorn trap: eat before you get to the theater.

But hack is still too closely tied to the computer world and also lacks kink‘s connotations of cleverness. So not really applicable to things like a housewife using a vacuum cleaner to inflate balloons.



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