Living with the Truth Stranger than Fiction This Is Not About What You Think Milligan and Murphy Making Sense

Sunday, 13 November 2016


Finding Out the Hard Way

So, you got inside me finally?
Well, it's where you thought
you wanted to be
but did you ever think
there might be no way out?

Why else do you think
I've stayed here so long?

28 August 1989
I love etymological dictionaries. The thing with them is, however, most of them stop with Latin as if once you’ve got to the Latin root you’ve found the real meaning of a word. For example:
penetrate (v.)
1520s, from Latin penetratus, past participle of penetrare "to put or get into, enter into," related to penitus "within, inmost," penus "innermost part of a temple, store of food," penates "household gods."
Penus, eh? Remind you of anything?
penis (n.)
1670s, perhaps from French pénis or directly from Latin penis "penis," earlier "tail," from PIE pes- "penis" (source also of Sanskrit pasas-, Greek peos, posthe "penis," probably also Old English fæsl "progeny, offspring," Old Norse fösull, German Fasel "young of animals, brood").
So how come ‘penis’ and ‘penus’ aren’t related? Surely a penis is a thing designed to penetrate be it a vagina, a melon or an apple pie. (For other options see

Penetration can be a contentious subject. It never used to be. In the old days sex amounted to penetration. If it didn’t you weren’t doing it right. Then again in the old days a poem was a thing that rhymed. Everything used to be so much simpler back then; you knew where you were.

There’s a line in Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape where Krapp is listening to himself as a young man describing a boat trip with a young woman, presumably his one true love or the one he imagined might have been:
--upper lake, with the punt, bathed off the bank, then pushed out into the stream and drifted. She lay stretched out on the floorboards with her hands under her head and her eyes closed. Sun blazing down, bit of a breeze, water nice and lively. I noticed a scratch on her thigh and asked her how she came by it. Picking gooseberries, she said. I said again I thought it was hopeless and no good going on, and she agreed, without opening her eyes. (Pause.) I asked her to look at me and after a few moments—(pause) —after a few moments she did, but the eyes just slits, because of the glare. I bent over her to get them in the shadow and they opened. (Pause. Low.) Let me in. (Pause.) We drifted in among the flags and stuck. The way they went down, sighing, before the stem! (Pause.) I lay down across her with my face in her breasts and my hand on her. We lay there without moving. But under us all moved, and moved us, gently, up and down, and from side to side. [bold mine]
The need to get inside someone else isn’t just a physical thing. It’s something I’ve been very guilty of over the years, probing. More. Tell me more. Give me details. And they did. I was good at interrogation and there’s no other word for it.

I’ve forgotten most of the sex I’ve ever had. Much of it was eminently forgettable I’m sorry to say. But the things women revealed to me whilst fully clothed—and occasionally not even in the same building—have stayed with me.


vito pasquale said...

I too enjoy reading the dictionary learning the source of words. Your posting has reminded me that there was a word I'd found years ago that I thought was too smart for it's own good: Penetralia. I think it looks better on the page undefined.

There's always a risk in getting too close. There's a certain kind of poetry in doing things the hard way or as in this case, finding out the hard way. There's an ominous tone here. It can't be autobiography. I am now going to attest that I am not a robot to the reCAPTHA thingy. That's my autobiographical moment of the day.

Jim Murdoch said...

I think people who dislike the fact that poetry is hard to understand and even harder to explain are the kind of people who can live with the fact that up is not down and down is not up. What I hate about dictionaries, Vito, is that they have no choice but to use words to define other words and eventually you end up going round in a circle. I marvel, I genuinely marvel, that one man can communicate verbally with another man and trust that he’s being understood. I love discovering new words like ‘penetralia’ but it’s easy to see how they can fall into disuse. They get trodden underfoot by all the new words we insist on inventing. Apparently ‘post-truth’ was named word of the year for 2016 by Oxford Dictionaries. Never heard of it before. The dictionary defines it as an adjective “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” I think I might’ve gone with ‘circumfactual’ myself. Or why not ‘emotional truth’?

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