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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: June ::
Re: R & J Query
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.1563  Wednesday, 20 June 2001

[1]     From:   Mike Jensen <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 19 Jun 2001 08:13:31 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1544 Re: R & J Query

[2]     From:   Robin Hamilton <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 19 Jun 2001 17:53:05 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1544 Re: R & J Query

[3]     From:   Kevin De Ornellas <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 19 Jun 2001 20:04:55 -0000
        Subj:   DICK


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Mike Jensen <
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Date:           Tuesday, 19 Jun 2001 08:13:31 -0700
Subject: 12.1544 Re: R & J Query
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1544 Re: R & J Query

To Stuart Taylor,

What does any of this have to do with the use of *Peter* in English?
You need to establish a history there, or it does not interact with the
argument.

All the best,
Mike Jensen

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Robin Hamilton <
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Date:           Tuesday, 19 Jun 2001 17:53:05 +0100
Subject: 12.1544 Re: R & J Query
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1544 Re: R & J Query

> From:           Stuart Taylor <
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> Despite Robin Hamilton's efforts, I believe that a consideration of
> linguistic usage supports Abigail Quart's intuition about the word,
> "Peter."  It is difficult to write off certain persistent associations.
>
> 1 Aramaic: Kephas is a male name and kephas means rock.
>
> 2 Greek: (kephas means head)  Petra means rock, especially protruding
> rocks at the sea (dangerous because they could pierce ships),
> promontories, cliffs, etc.  Hence Jesus' pun (Matthew 16), "Thou art
> Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church."
>
> 3 French: Pierre (Peter) is a male name and pierre means rock.  Lastly,
> in Vocabularia Amatoria (1895) John Farmer points out that Rabelais used
> "Pierre" for penis.

At the risk of tedium, to carry this topic a little further ...

To cast the argument (which I hope I don't misrepresent too drastically)
in quasi-syllogistic form:

"Peter" can be associated with (English) or means (Greek, Latin, French,
[but not, perhaps curiously, Italian]) "rock" Rocks are hard and
occasionally stick up in the air. Therefore, "Peter" carries the
implicit sexual connotation of "penis"

To reiterate:  The problem is that there are no +documented+ examples of
peter=penis in English before the 19C. There are a wealth of +other+
documented examples of slang terms for penis.  To take one, "cock" for
'penis' is documented from 1618, and the older term from which it is
formed, "pillicock", can be traced back to Middle English.

This would seem to be an example of Sherlock Holmes' dog, which
singularlyfails to bark for the space of three hundred years.

To come to Rabelais, who uses "Pierre" for penis.  My immediate reaction
to this was that as Rabelais is so exuberantly a creator and exploiter
of language, that while this may be true with regard to Rabelais, it
doesn't mean diddly squat in any wider French usage of the term
"Pierre".  However, being ever the impeccable (if lazy) scholar, I
consulted a friend who is a s pecialist in French language and
literature.  He responded as follows:

"I have a small complete works edition of Rabelais, but it does not
include any specialised vocabulary.  And my "Petit Robert" quotes
several authors' use of 'pierre' (Balzac, Montherland, Gautier, Zola)
but all are variations of the meaning 'rock' or 'gem' without sexual
overtones."

... which would seem to confirm my initial reaction.

(As a final aside, the word "Peter" occurs fourteen times in Thomas
Urquhart's translation of Rabelais (Books I and II in 1653, and other
books later)  [the word "penis" once]  --   on none of these occasions
does it have any sexual overtone.  As Urquhart normally responds with
delight to the bawdy element of Rabelais' text, it would seem that the
dog isn't simply refusing to bark, but has been thoroughly muzzled.)

Robin Hamilton

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Kevin De Ornellas <
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Date:           Tuesday, 19 Jun 2001 20:04:55 -0000
Subject:        DICK

'Dick' was already established as a slang term for 'penis' during the
early modern period.  Numerous examples of this quibble are provided in
Gordon Williams, comp., 'A Dictionary of Sexual Language and Imagery in
Shakespearean and Stuart Literature', 3 vols (London: Athlone Press,
1994), vol. I, p. 328.

Kevin De Ornellas
Queen's University, Belfast

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