I’ve left the topic of my book unaddressed for too long, preoccupied as I have been with more highfalutin’ topics, but thanks to the indefatigable John Emerson I hereby bring you Русский Мат.net! Don’t worry, it’s not just Russian, though it does have a nice Russian as they speak it section from which I’ve already learned a lot (I’ve seen ыыыы but had no idea it represented laughter); there’s a useful section where you can search “Argot français classique” in dictionaries ranging from 1827 to 1907. I looked up pine ‘cock’ and got this delightful quote from Delvau (1864): “L’outil masculin, l’engin avec lequel l’humanité pine et se perpétua. On n’ose pas prononcer le mot, mais on adore la chose…” [The male tool, the appliance with which humanity screws and has perpetuated itself. One does not dare pronounce the word, but one adores the thing…”] Thanks, John!


  1. the appliance with which humanity screws and has perpetuated itself
    As Mr Allen used to say*, life is a sexually-transmitted disease (“La vie est une maladie mortelle sexuellement transmissible“, which was turned into a book’s title by Pr Willy Rosenbaum: La vie est une maladie sexuellement transmissible constamment mortelle).
    * Hm, was it Woody Allen who said it first?

  2. I’m honoured that you find my website worth mentioning. Some of the definitions in those old argot dictionaries are fascinating, I find for example Singulier masculin qui se fait mettre au féminin (male singular that is used as feminine – G.-A.Rossignol’s definition of chatte) exquisite and witty.

  3. Willy Rosenbaum was a pioneer clinician in AIDS treatment, from whom a small group of non-specialist journalists got a most valuable briefing before the second World AIDS congress in Paris in 1986. Most valuable because it was a very arcane subject then, and we had to cover the conference both accurately and getting the main stories.
    The thing I remember most about the briefing was when he was asked about the transmissability of HIV between positive and non-positive heterosexual partners. “We know of at least one case whee there has been no transmission in about 1500 rapports,” he said, and paused. “And we know of cases where it has been transmitted in one rapport.” It gave us all cause to think …

  4. Bill Walderman says

    Shouldn’t it be “se perpétue” or “s’est perpétué”?

  5. Charles, your site is really indispensible for French. Many thanks. A great example of what the internet can do.

  6. marie-lucie says

    Shouldn’t it be “se perpétue” or “s’est perpétué”?
    Today one could say one or the other (using “s’est perpétuée” for the past), but this dates from 1864, and the passé simple was used more frequently in those days (unless the final a is a typo for e). Nowadays, using it in this context seems to suggest that the process of perpetuation is no longer used.

  7. Bill Walderman says

    “using it in this context seems to suggest that the process of perpetuation is no longer used.”
    I think it must be a typo (but I have to confess to leaving off the extra e myself in the passé composé form). Doesn’t the passé simple sound as if the human race was once on the verge of extinction but managed to avoid it by a single sex act?

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