Going Public About Privates

Laura’s Team Pick

What comes to mind when you think of spirituality? That was the invitation sent out to writers who would be contributing to freq.uenci.es, a “collective genealogy of spirituality” (you can let me know if you figure out what that means). I like the take on This American Life and I appreciate the ode to procrastination, but I love that some guy decided to write about pubic hair. If the questions in Riese’s formspring inbox are any indication, I’m not the only one confused and delighted by its existence. Why is it there? What do you do with it? Should specialized dyes really exist? Luckily Mr. Roger Friedland decided to take my questions seriously and examine the disappearance of pubic hair. Whether you’re interested in Emile Durkheim or Playboy bunnies, he’s got you covered (that’s almost a pun).

In Rome a vagina is una fica, a term deriving from the fig, a great thing, a delightful gift, a ribboned fruit. Among young Romans, the expression fica is a way to convey something extraordinarily good, akin to “cool.” They even make it into a superlative—fichissimo, meaning that something is the “cuntest” and very good indeed. Una fica is not only a sexually attractive woman, it is anything worthy of possession or experience. Imagine an American guy saying: “Wow, that is so vagina!” You can’t.

VIA AMANDA PALMER'S "MAP OF TASMANIA"


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Laura is a tiny girl who wishes she were a superhero. She likes talking to her grandma on the phone and making things with her hands. Strengths include an impressive knowledge of Harry Potter, the ability to apply sociology to everything under the sun, and a knack for haggling for groceries in Spanish. Weaknesses: Chick-fil-a, her triceps, girls in glasses, and the subjunctive mood. Follow the vagabond adventures of Laura and her bike on twitter [@laurrrrita].

Laura has written 330 articles for us.

56 Comments

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    That is so awesome and so weird at the same time in terms of language/cultural shift. The Latin word for vagina is Pudenda, which literally means “something to be ashamed of.” I have forgotten the word for penis but, of course, it means “something to be proud of.”

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      it’s penis,the latin word for penis is penis.

      there are two good things about this reply:
      1. 5 years of latin finally paid off.
      2. I probably just set a record for writing penis three times in just one sentence.

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        Awesome. That’s probably why I didn’t remember actually…

        Also point two made me laugh, thereby startling my girlfriend and the sleeping cat. Hmmm, do I get some sort of lesbian prize for this?

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          I do not have a girlfriend.I’m more of a dog person.and roughly 20% of the words I wrote here relate to male genitalia….

          so I guess you get a prize and I have to return my gay membership card now

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            I love how much Latin discussion is going on right now! You can keep your gay membership card for taking 5 years of Latin and making this happen. (I’ve got 5 years of Latin too so now it’s a gay thing.)

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            Totallly! You guys are gayer than me in that respect because I only did four, and then literally not a month after I dropped the class I started dating a boy!

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      actually ‘pudenda’ is gerundive (and plural) so in latin it’s stronger than ‘things that should be ashamed of’; it’s ‘things that MUST be ashamed of’.

      ^ this is the most obscure thing i have ever written on the internet but gerundives are sexy, so.

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        Fellow gerundive lover here. Since gerundives can also be a let’s verb thing, at first I translated it as ‘let’s vagina!’ and then realized that was incorrect… as much as I wish it wasn’t.

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        I have always enjoyed that about vagina, mostly because it allows some truly awful vulgar metaphors. Though actually if that’s what penis means then it can’t be the counterpart to Pudenda. That is going to drive me insane.

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          Yeah, but pudenda is a euphemism anyway, so maybe you don’t need a penis counterpart. I’m sure there are plenty of vulgar/euphemistic words for penis too, we just need to do a little research :).

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            No no but there is one! It means something to be proud of! They’re a pair!

            And I have been trying to make a penis counterpart joke here for about five minutes but I can’t think of a not terrible one. Sad.

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            ‘mentula’ was used for penis in some latin poetry as a more casual word, and it either means ‘little mind’ or ‘spearmint twig’ depending on which embittered academic you believe. make of that what you will, fellow ladyboffers.

            anon, i don’t know anything about the noah’s ark male equivalent for ‘pudenda’ but i don’t think there’s really a concept of ‘being proud’ or ‘feeling proud’ in a positive sense in latin. only ‘superbus’, which really means proud in the sense of arrogance or something pejorative….

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        Yeah. Roman scabbards were actually called vaginas. Seriously! But then vagina didn’t actually mean vagina in the Classical Roman period: it meant uterus.

        I think when people say ‘vagina’ here they actually mean ‘vulva’? If so, the Roman word for that was ‘cunnus’.

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      1. I would like to be there there the first time you actually say it as a thing.
      2. I can’t hear “That is so vagina” and not have my mind go directly to “That’s so Raven”
      3. I’m embarrassed that “That’s so Raven” is really a reference I can make.
      4. Where do I turn in my gay card..sigh

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        Whatever, Raven and Chelsea were totes gay for each other, you have nothing to be ashamed of.

  2. Thumb up 0

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    I’ve heard that Cunt comes from Italian me cuento (sp?) meaning My Quaint. Which I think is terrifically sweet.

    I love the idea that a word like cunt can pack so much punch and so much softness.

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      I thought it came from the Spanish word fo Rabbit. It was also, during the Victorian period a pilote word for ladies to use if they had to talk to each other about their “feminine parts.”

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        resident victorianhistorian speaks: much like the belief that prince albert had a prince albert, this is not true. it was deeply dirty then, and got a whole bunch of mileage in the porn of the era.

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          See I knew it turned up in porn (I own a collection of Victorian lesbian porn, some of it is surprisingly terrifying rather than erotic) but I thought that was a subversion of the word for realism, like “look they’re talking about their cunts like ladies do! And by that we mean touching each other!” Makes me kind of sad that its not true, I wonder where the idea came from?

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      Actually, “cunt” appears in Old English as “quaint,” which had five separate meanings depending on the context. Chaucer loooved that word.

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    Soooo…what I’m gathering from the above comments is that saying the word “cunt” is my new method of obtaining frans? LET THE EXPERIMENTATION BEGIN!

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    Related? I guess. Whatever, I am extraordinarily lucky to be part of a band of hardcore femmes who gleefully refer to themselves, their style, and the delightful nuanced details of embodying and expressing femme as “cunty”. It’s tops!

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    The fact that this is even a thing scares me.

    Now all I can think about is my snatch – not a good thing.

    When all I want to do is think about other people’s snatches.

    And that scares me too.

    Then that just makes me wonder about my snatch again. I don’t know. Just all the things – snatches, vaginas, cunts rushing into the room. Eh, and that’s probably a good thing.

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    You guys, stop trying to make “fica” happen. It’s never going to happen.

    JOKES. I’ve used it twice in conversation since I read this article.

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    laura i loved this essay! thank you for sharing it. i was already erring on the side of total hippie freedom re: hair, but not exactly acting on it. his argument is super compelling.

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    ..also you can say FIGA or FIGO reffering to a hot girl or a hot guy. You need to say FIGO!/FICO! if you mean COOL! but you may say as well… giving you all pudenda-italian lessons is UNA FIGATA!
    Moreover, speaking of latin, you have to know that your pudenda are hidden by your mutanda, which means “things to be changed”
    Baci from Italy

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    This article and its comments have managed to combine my three favorite things: Sociology, etymology, and vaginas. Thank you Laura!

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    OMG just have to state i love the picture and say i didnt know anyone out of australia knew the map of tasmania joke! You see i am from tasmania

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    It’s too bad that Mr. Friedland has misused the word vagina– he means VULVA. A hairy vagina would be scary!

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