The junkfrouwe and the fud.

Kate Connolly reports for the Guardian about a newly discovered parchment fragment:

It has been called the earliest form of the Vagina Monologues – an argument in verse between a woman and her vulva, originating in the Middle Ages. Now a fragment of the text, about who gives more pleasure to men, dates the poem to 200 years earlier than previously thought.

Medievalists are thrilled by the find, in the archive of an Austrian monastery, which rewrites the history of sexuality in medieval literature. Fragments from 60 lines of The Rose Thorn (Der Rosendorn) were discovered on a thin strip of parchment in the library of the baroque Melk Abbey on the banks of the Danube in Austria’s Wachau Valley. The abbey find means that the poem can now be dated to about 1300. Until the parchment discovery it was believed that Der Rosendorn had not been composed until the end of the Middle Ages, about two centuries later. Two existing versions of the poem, known as the Dresden Codex and the Karlsruhe Codex, are a constant fascination for medievalists who consider it one of the first ever erotic poems.

In the poem, a virgin woman (junkfrouwe) argues in a free-flowing, often witty dialogue, with her speaking vulva (fud) about which of them is held in the higher regard by men. The virgin argues that it is by her looks that men are won over, whilst the vulva, accusing the virgin of putting too much stress on her appearance, says it is she who provides the true pleasure. The two decide to part company, but find themselves deeply unhappy and so reunite to allay their suffering. They conclude that they are better together, as a person and their sex are quite simply inseparable.

It is not known who the poem’s author was, or whether male or female.

The word fud is ancient; the Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture (edited by J. P. Mallory and Douglas Q. Adams) has this entry:

*putós ‘± vulva, anus’ [IEW 849 (*pṹ-to-)]. ON fuð– ‘vulva’, MHG fut ‘vulva’, Grk(Hesychius) πύννος (< *pútno-) ‘anus’. OInd (attested only very late) putau (dual) ‘buttocks’. Sparse but widely attested. The best candidate for a word with this meaning having PIE status.

Though I’m not sure what “this meaning” is. (Thanks, Trevor!)


  1. AJP Crown says

    I just want to point out that Melk (once known as Mölk) isn’t just any old baroque abbey. Along with Vierzehnheiligen and prewar Dresden, it’s one of the greatest works of northern baroque architecture. And this is the library we’re talking about. Adso, the Dr Watson of Eco’s The Name of the Rose, is Adso of Melk.

  2. Wow, those images are spectacular! And now I want to read The Name of the Rose again.

  3. As the Vikings would say:

    Ferlig er fuð, sin byrli

  4. Image and translation here.

  5. AJP Crown says

    It’s just been made for TV in 8 episodes with John Turturro as William of Baskerville. I saw it on Norwegian TV but it’s also on the BBC and no doubt on the US telly too. And yes, I too was gobsmacked the first time I saw pics of Melk, when I was a student. I bet David’s even been there, lucky person.

  6. Brian Hillcoat says

    I was absolutely thrilled when I saw this story last week. I knew nothing of the word ‘fud’ except that it was our playground word for what was down there in the girls’ pants (before we discovered ‘cunt’) when I was at primary school in Scotland 60 years ago. I can hardly bring myself to pronounce it today, yet I now discover it has a most noble history and that our filthy little mouths were articulating a survivor from an ancient past. It’s like a miracle.

  7. It’s just been made for TV in 8 episodes with John Turturro as William of Baskerville. I saw it on Norwegian TV but it’s also on the BBC and no doubt on the US telly too.

    Was it good? Here it was apparently on Sundance TV, whatever that is. I miss the old days when there were three channels and if there wasn’t anything worth watching, you gathered round the parlor and sang folk songs or listened to the tales of the elders.

  8. Well that gives a new tinge to Elmer’s name.

  9. David Marjanović says

    The word survives, you know. Graffito seen about 20 years ago:


    “is good if stink it does”

    It is very rarely used, though, because German swearwords are all about shit & ass. Like… it’s rare enough that nobody so much as smirks at English food.

    The -d is interesting (though I can’t find the word on the fragment; probably it’s not even there, only in the known complete versions). It fits the modern pronunciation; 1300 is late enough for the Central Bavarian medial and final lenition of /t/ to /d/. That means we’re still left without evidence on which syllable was stressed in PIE (note Mallory & Adams and their Greek example contradict the IEW without explaining the matter).

    a virgin woman (junkfrouwe)

    Well, an unmarried woman; virginal in the modern sense only by implication.

    I bet David’s even been there, lucky person.

    I think I’ve been inside once, but I’m not sure. I’ve passed it often, you see it from the highway.

    playground word […] in Scotland 60 years ago


  10. John Cowan says

    As the Vikings would say

    Or as GT has it:

    Ferlig is born, a must have

    From which I conclude that fuð is Modern Icelandic for FUD ‘disinformation spread about about a competitor’ < fear, uncertainty, and doubt

  11. AJP Crown says

    you see it from the highway
    Shush, I like to think it’s the Danube down there.

    Was it good?
    All right, I admit I’ve only watched episode 1 but I’m thinking of giving episode 2 a go. I’m not sure yet. I thought it was kind of boring, but I like John Turturro and it could have just been my mood. I don’t want to put anybody off. The acting is good but the surroundings aren’t how I’d pictured them in the book.

    I miss the old days when there were three channels
    Three bloody channels? When I were a lad it were one black-and-white channel with snow. They played God Save the Queen at 10 pm and we stood up and dad switched off and gave us all a good hiding.

  12. Stu Clayton says

    In Kölsch Fott is “butt” (not butthole), and Funz is “cunt”. This last in High Vulgar German is Fotze. Physiological proximity, along with ignorance or indifference, seem to have confused the ancient wordsmiths.

    The adjective fott is the Kölsch variant of fort “gone/away”. It’s pronounced more rapidly than Fott.

    Kenne mer nit, bruche mer nit, fott domet.

    “Don’t know it, don’t need it, chuck it”

  13. David Marjanović says

    This last in High Vulgar German is Fotze.

    Oh yes, I almost forgot. In Austria it means “bitch-slap” instead. And funnily enough, that should be the exact cognate of πύννος…

  14. Stu Clayton says

    As in pugnacious ?

    Maybe I should start referring to Left and Right Teutonia, in order to keep the potential differences in mind.

  15. The Monastery of Melk is a really amazing sight, and I really think that it ought to be better known. Visiting it is one of my clearest memories from when I visited Austria as a teenager, even though I did not have nearly enough time to look around and absorb the amazing architecture. When I read The Name of the Rose, not long after coming back, it seemed perfectly fitting that Adso should have eventually ended up at Melk—which also had an impressive library, albeit not the “greatest library in Christendom”; it was just one of those little things Eco threw in that the vast majority of readers would never appreciate, but to those that got it, it definitely added to the atmosphere.

    On the down side, the monastery was also the location the worst ice cream stand I have ever visited.

  16. I think I’ve been inside once

    I assume you’re talking about the monastery, not the fud.

    I met a German (might have been Austrian) once who told me the word he used for cunnilingus with his girlfriend was something like ‘clean the xxxx’, where ‘clean’ was putzen. Was there some logic behind the choice of verb, I wonder?

    I have a vague and fleeting memory that xxxx was ‘goldfish’, but that could be a figment of my imagination.

  17. Stu Clayton says

    Everyone was inside a fud once. But everyone has to forget that in order to get real. That means asking silly, befuddled questions like “where did we come from”, and speculating about a Big Bang.

  18. Stu Clayton says

    Was there some logic behind the choice of verb?

    Sich putzen is the German for what a cat is doing when it “grooms itself”.

    Goldfisch would be funny and make sense. “Polishing the goldfish”. Polishing silver (cutlery) is das Silber(besteck) putzen. It involves careful rubbing with a damp cloth …

  19. David Marjanović says

    Putzen just means “to clean”, most commonly perhaps one’s apartment.

    I assume you’re talking about the monastery, not the fud.

    Yes, though it did amuse me to write that in the same comment…

  20. It’s always sad when such words go the way of all flesh (as it were), although it’s heartening that it’s still used in places like Scotland, Germany, and Austria.

    My favourite Japanese word for the same part of the anatomy is tsubi, which, alas, has long died out. In its heyday it was apparently a staple of jokes about priests with headcolds meaning to say tsumi-bukai onna ‘woman deep in sin’, but instead coming out with tsubi-bukai onna (deep somewhere else). I guess it’s too much to hope that words yielding such wonderful puns could be revived.

  21. Stu Clayton says

    This throws a new light on the German word Azubi, stressed on the initial A. It means “trainee” in some activity cunningly not further specified. The diversionary etymology is that it is an abbreviation of Auszubildende(r).

  22. Peysakh-Putz is Yiddish for pre-Passover cleaning.

  23. And yes, I too was gobsmacked the first time I saw pics of Melk, when I was a student. I bet David’s even been there, lucky person.

    I’m surprised at these remarks that Melk “ought to be better known”. Didn’t everyone go there when InterRailing in the 1970’s/80’s? There was nothing difficult or prohibitive about visting. I well remember both goggling at it, and feeling a sense of revulsion that it was all too much, as it went on and on. By the end, my sympathies were all with the Lutherans.

  24. See also this poem (“Von Prag ein hawpt aus Pehamlant”).

  25. Trond Engen says

    Modern Norwegian fu f. is squarely dialectal and low register. The meaning (or at least the one I’ve encountered in the wild) is “ass/arse”. Doktoren stakk noe opp i fua på meg “The doctor shoved something up my arse.”

    The double meaning “woman’s vulva; man’s arse” (different registers intended) is old, as SFR’s ON quote shows.

  26. AJP Crown says

    the monastery was also the location of the worst ice cream stand I have ever visited.

    Important to know. I tried vegan ice cream the other day and it was pretty good (no melk).

  27. David Marjanović says

    See also this poem (“Von Prag ein hawpt aus Pehamlant”).

    Interesting: the fut there appears to be feminine instead of neuter, and the whole thing is transitional between Middle and New High German, because it’s (says p. 6) from the end of the 14th century.

  28. How goes pudenda fit in? I know it’s immediately derived from pudere. But whence pudere?

  29. PlasticPaddy says

    “From Proto-Indo-European *paw- (“strike”)” is what Wiktionary says, see pudeo. The development to pudenda would appear euphemistic like “naughty bits”.

  30. PlasticPaddy says

    This might be the place to mention the insult “foot” used to someone who does something clumsy or inappropriate. I always thought this referred to the dexterity of the hand in picking things up, grasping, etc., as opposed to using the foot. But I have not seen any explanation of this usage.

  31. David Marjanović says

    Hm. So maybe “[quote], my foot!” isn’t actually a bowdlerization of “[quote], my ass!”.

  32. Well that gives a new tinge to Elmer’s name.

    And is there an etymology for “fuddy-duddy”?

  33. John Cowan says

    Well, looking at Google Ngrams, Etymonline, and the OED, my foot! seems to land around 1880, whereas my arse! goes back to at least 1701, when Jonathan Swift’s Journal to Stella has “They […] promise me letters to the two archbishops here; but mine a— for it all.”

    No known etymology for fuddy-duddy.

  34. >From proto-Indo-European *pau to strike.

    Wiktionary does say that. The evidence there isnt very convincing. I dont see much else in the bit of google I’m willing to unroll on my tablet.

  35. David Marjanović says

    The evidence there isnt very convincing.

    Specifically, the cognates given there are all Latin, too (e.g. paveo), “*paw-” links to a page that does not exist, and *a just standing around innocently in the middle of a PIE root with no *h₂ anywhere to be seen is very suspicious.

    On the other hand, a root *POW! for the sound of a fist hitting a face could have been innovated at any time.

  36. AJP Crown says

    maybe “[quote], my foot!” isn’t actually a bowdlerization of “[quote], my ass!”.
    The OED doesn’t have a citation for my foot! earlier than the 1920s, when your foot was apparently just as popular (Noel Coward’s Hay Fever), but the OED has an unbelievable number of metaphors connected to foot, so many that it seems as likely that my arse is from a ‘foot’ exclamation as vice versa. Someone suggests in Wikiquote that it might come from ‘to put one’s foot down’. That one the OED traces to the 16C.

    Here’s a foot that has disappeared that otherwise is a bit like ‘Hell’s teeth”:

    †b.I.1.b In the oath or exclamation, Christ’s foot, later ‘s foot or simply foot. Cf. blood 1 e. Obs.

       c 1386 Chaucer Miller’s T. 596 Ey, Cristes fote! what wil ye do therwith?    c 1600 Distr. Emperor iii. i. in Bullen O. Pl. (1884) III. 212 Foote, man, let him be ten thousand preists and a will styll want somethynge.    1662 T. W. Thorny Abbey 13, ‘S foot, doe you think we gave him warning.

  37. From proto-Indo-European *pau to strike

    I ran into the same thing when looking up the etymology of fottere (Italian) / futuere (Latin), although there Wiktionary says “ultimately from PIE *bʰew- (‘to hit’).” But elsewhere I’m seeing the same root given with the meaning of “to grow, develop” and Italian sources also seem to point to the idea of generation. I can’t help hoping it’s this and not the more violent meaning! I know absolutely nothing about Proto-Indo-European, but does the comment thread on this old post (, towards the end) have some bearing?

  38. Well, a development from “hit, beat” or onomatopoeic designations with similar meanings is attested, see e.g. English “to bang”, German bumsen. I can’t think of any word meaning futuere that comes from a meaning “grow”.

  39. Yes, I’m afraid a dual meaning ‘hit’/’fuck’ is extremely common. (See any Russian slang dictionary for copious examples.)

  40. In Russian meaning “hit” is secondarily derived from original meaning of “fuck”, not vice versa.

    Slang word “trakhat” underwent evolution in opposite direction – from “hit, beat” to “fuck”, but it is a very recent development (commonly attributed to translators of bootleg video tapes with pirated American movies back in 1980s).

  41. David Marjanović says

    “I’d hit that.”

  42. In Russian meaning “hit” is secondarily derived from original meaning of “fuck”, not vice versa.

    It’s very commonly vice versa. I’m not talking about just one verb.

  43. Of course, if these bits of evidence are supporting the idea that pau (strike) is related to pudere (to shame) via ‘fuck,’ then I think that’s actually evidence that fud is part of the cluster.

    I still find the pau — pudere derivation dubious, and think a simple line from fud is more promising.

  44. Various Italian etymology sites tell me fottere/futuere comes from φύω, although there seems to be some degree of confusion. And sure, there are hitting metaphors all over the place in contemporary languages, but I can’t help wondering if that influenced whoever was writing about the PIE root (“well, of course, it’s banging”).

  45. @Bathrobe

    priests with headcolds

    Wouldn’t even have to be limited to head-colds, either. I’ve seen the bm fluctuation (still kicking around in modern Japanese, as you know, e.g. “lonely,” samishii vs. sabishii) cited in medieval texts to support quite dubious etymologies, and it’s reasonable enough to assume that if it was available for that, it was also available for less, um, academically-inclined punning.

  46. =Der Standard= has a German article with links to the academic sites for the fragment

    These kinds of debates about which of two similar things was best (the date palm and the tamarisk, winter and summer …) were a respectable Sumerian genre, I didn’t know they were part of medieval poetry too.

  47. David Eddyshaw says

    Talking of Latin, how about puteus?

  48. David Eddyshaw says

    Talking of Latin, how about puteus?
    The Wiki derivation from the itself-dubious *paw “strike” looks frankly impossible to me.

  49. Roberto Batisti says

    @ Biscia: Italian online etymological resources are pretty unreliable (yes, I’m looking at you, I’d recommend double-checking everything against more scientifically up-to-date sources. Latin is quite well served in terms of etymological dictionaries. In the case at hand, a connection of futuo and φύω seems unlikely to me.

  50. @Roberto Batisti: I’m not at all surprised to hear that, and one bad source online can sprout a bunch of others. I suppose I was curious to look at Italian ones (while unfortunately having no idea which might be reliable) because contrary to English, I can’t think of any expressions in Italian that equate sex with beating – aside from battere, but that has a marciapiede in the middle so it’s not really pertinent. Maybe in dialect? Of course this absence (if true) doesn’t mean the Latin came from something else, I was just wondering if the banging connection was more automatic for scholars who have already seen it in their native language. Just to be clear: I’m a translator, not a linguist, and Italian is my L2.

  51. Roberto Batisti says

    @Biscia: for the ‘sex is beating’ metaphor in Italian, cf. also ‘dare una botta a qualcuno’ for having (occasional/lustful) intercourse with somebody

  52. @Roberto Batisti: oops, of course. And actually now some others are coming to mind, like the very obvious sbattere. So much for that idea.

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