Avva posts the first attested use of one of the less frequent but more amusing four-letter words; the entry is in Russian, but even those without the use of that remarkably obscenity-rich language will enjoy the Fletcher translation of Martial whose last line provides the historic reference—it is given both in transcription and in an image of the original book. (It should be noted that this word was, as the OED puts it, “Erroneously used… by Browning Pippa Passes iv. ii. 96 under the impression that it denoted some part of a nun’s attire”; let this be a lesson to all of us to always look up words we don’t understand.)


  1. Less frequent? Maybe over your way, but back in Blighty we use it quite a lot, more than its cognate four-letter “c” word. The latter appears to be the last great obscenity taboo for British public service broadcasting and its (infrequent) use still provokes public debate. Twat, however, has nothing of the force although I remember being taught its etymology early on in the playground. I would guess it is roughly as insulting as “dick” or “dickhead”. Neither of which, of course, have anything to do with detectives. But I was also taught in the playground that a “twerp” was a pregnant camel, and I doubt whether that is true!

  2. Huh! Another case of “divided by a common language” — I doubt I’ve heard “twat” more than half a dozen times in my life (so little, in fact, that I can’t confidently say what force level it carries today).

  3. “…let this be a lesson to all of us to always look up words we don’t understand…”

    Tell that to Carl Proffer’s ghost. 🙂

  4. Hmm. Reading the thread, it looks to me like rukenau has it right: a comma in the right place (“a branch of acacia or, say, lilac blooms with white flowers, smells of creosote, the dust of connecting platforms and smoke ->, looms along the track bed…”) would fix it (for sense, not style), which means it’s not a matter of looking things up; in fact, it might be a simple typo. (I think “connecting platform” is reasonable for tambur; my largest dictionary gives “covered platform (of railway car),” but we don’t really have an immediately available word or phrase for it.)

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