Terminology and Related Difficulties

and Hubert Lepidi1



(1)
UER Médecine, Aix-Marseille Université, Marseille, France

 



Abstract

Few organs have involved as many difficulties in relation to their designation and name than the bulbo-clitoral organ and its components. The first difficulties appeared when referring to the clitoris and then the bulbs, within the external female genitalia, that previous anatomists had named, without any hesitation, “shameful parts of the woman”. However, later on, equally significant difficulties arose when anatomists finally understood that it was necessary to integrate the female cavernous and spongy bodies into a single organ and that a name should be given to the organ in question.


Few organs have involved as many difficulties in relation to their designation and name than the bulbo-clitoral organ and its components. The first difficulties appeared when referring to the clitoris and then the bulbs, within the external female genitalia, that previous anatomists had named, without any hesitation, “shameful parts of the woman”. However, later on, equally significant difficulties arose when anatomists finally understood that it was necessary to integrate the female cavernous and spongy bodies into a single organ and that a name should be given to the organ in question.


3.1 The First Names


One of the first names was the womans penis (adopted by Latin scientists: virga vel penis muliebris). Then Hippocrates1 provided his own names: columella (or small pillar) or the extremely imaged uvula.2 Aristotle, for his part, called it “coles feminarum” (quotation from A. Portal). Aetius and Paul from Aïgina, considering that “this small formation is hidden under the labia like young brides under their veils” called it the nymph.3 Avicenna gave it the name of al bathara (or el bathr), i.e. penis. Albucasis, closer to physiology, was to call it “tentigo” (which is placed under tension) but also “softness of love”, a term that Colombo was going to reuse and claim as his own a few centuries later. For the Romans, and if we are to believe Rufus of Ephesus (see Chap. 1), born in c.98, who wrote a treatise entitled “On the Names of the Parts of the Human Body”, the “woman’s shameful parts” chapter contains the definition and the various names still used during his era in relation to the clitoris: it actually is a “muscular wattle, which hangs in the middle of the opening of the cleft”. It is generally referred to by means of three terms, numoé (which means “the veiled component”), murton (i.e. the bilberry)4 or hypodermis (the organ which is under the skin).

However, all the terms, which we have just seen, slowly disappeared and only two names remained, one for the Latin world, landica, and the other for the Greek world, clitoris.


3.2 The Two Major Names



3.2.1 Landica


This term (landica, ae) seems to have appeared relatively late, towards the end of the second century, and to have initially been part of “good classical Latin” (E. W. Fay). However, very quickly, this term was regarded as obscene (for reasons which we are unaware of) and was rarely used in the current language.

It can thus be found on drawings representing the Priapea (78.5.), a collection of obscene poems dedicated to Priape, the phallic god of fertility. It was even engraved on a slingshot projectile during the siege of Perugia (Perusia in Latin), as the attackers and besieged exchanged stones on which were engraved obscene insults (fulmen peto landicam Fulviae/culum Octavia)!5

More interesting still, the term “landica” was written by Cicéron. In a famous letter, this author refers to word games which can be made, voluntarily or not, by associating perfectly innocent syllables and, which when combined, are pronounced like an obscene word,6 in this case “landica”.

The term “landica” is also found in the master work of Soranos from Ephesus concerning “the diseases of women”, the first actual treatise on gynaecology.

Landica gave rise to the adjective “landicosa”, which was also rarely used and meant “who has a large clitoris”.7

But where does the word landica come? Few answers concern this etymology. There is, however, one sentence, which seems interesting and which was provided by E.W. Fay: the origin of the term “landica” could in fact be the term “glandica”, derived from the glans referring to the distal end of the male penis. The “g” would have been progressively lost due to the pronunciation difficulty for Latin people (their tongue retains the g), which has led to the disappearance of this letter.

However, as it has not been greatly used, the “landica” of the Romans rapidly gave way to the Greek word “clitoris”, which successive authors had widely introduced to Rome, such as testified, according to J. Riolan, by the texts written by Rufus of Ephesus, Pollux and Suidas. On the other hand, the term “landica” was still used in languages of Roman origin, including the old French language (“old French”) or Romanian. Thus, in “old French”, landica became landie or landye. And quite naturally in the historical dictionary of the old French language, which is the glossary of the French language from its origin until the century of Louis XIV, a definition for landie is provided: natural parts of the woman (thus with an extension of the term, which now includes the entire external genitalia). On the other hand, there is no trace of the term “clitoris” in this dictionary, although this word had previously invaded the Latin language.


3.2.2 Clitoris


The etymology of the word “clitoris” is still prone to discussion. However, there are numerous other possibilities even if they remain uncertain. It should also be noted that the term has often been written in different ways: kleitoris for Rufus, kletoris (for Pollux, during the second century), klitoris for Hesychius (during the sixth century) and finally clitoris for Suidas (during the eleventh century).

The term “clitoris” only appeared in France during the seventeenth century. It appeared in the dictionary of R. Cotgrave in 1611 (p. 203)8 with the following definition: “A woman’s Priuities” (or a woman’s “priuities”). It was soon going to spread in all of Europe, especially via Italian and English anatomists, and as a result make the words derived from “landica” disappear forever.

Among the multiple origins which have been proposed for the etymology of the term “clitoris”, we will retain the following:



  • Derived from the verb cleitorizein or kleitorizein, which means touch and tickle or titillate lasciviously


  • Derived from Kleitor, a city founded by Clitor and which had a famous fountain whose water tasted like wine


  • Derived from Kleo, verb meaning “to celebrate, praise” or from kleitos, adjective in the richest senses: glorious, prominent, famous and superb


  • Derived from Kleitor or Klitora, city of Arcadia (mountainous region in the South of Greece) located on a hill and acting as a lock for several valleys


  • Derived from Klitoris, a dark coloured stone, which can be found on the banks of the Indus (Plutarch also used this term to refer to a black stone, which can be found on Mount Lilée)


  • Derived from Clitoris, a legendary daughter of Myrmidon


  • Derived from Kleio, verb meaning “I close”, or from kleis, name meaning “what is used to close (key or lock)”


  • Derived from Kleitus, which means side or slope of a mountain or hill, or even a small hill

Linguists seem to want to adopt the last two etymologies (especially the Kleio etymology, which appears in several dictionaries9). However, the discussion remains open, especially as certain eminent specialists, such as M. Cohen10 have found similarities between the term clitoris and word formulations belonging to the living language of modern Ethiopia.

The terminology induced from “clitoris” is also interesting. The following can be mentioned:












Clitoral

which refers to the clitoris

Clitorism

extended and painful erection (pathological) of the clitoris (it is identical to priapism in men)

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Mar 29, 2017 | Posted by in UROLOGY | Comments Off on Terminology and Related Difficulties
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