Is that a rooster in your pocket… ?

A row of roosters and their hens at the local agricultural show. I think the one on the right is my Mr Peep.

A row of roosters and their hens at the local agricultural show. I think the one on the right is my Mr Peep.

I’ve been researching the c–k term since I mentioned on Facebook that I’d included a joke around it in Farewell to Kindness. (Anne’s sister has a pet rooster which the heroine brings with her to stay at the hero’s house, allowing the heroine’s cousin to make jokes about the hero needing a prize-winning c–k).

One of the commenters said that the term in England was cockerel, and that the term c–k wouldn’t be used.

The same conversation came up on a Goodread’s thread, where another novelist asked about acceptable and time-appropriate terms.

It turns out that the one I wanted to use  was in common use for both male birds and male members, and was not considered unfit for polite company (even when referring to male domestic fowl) until Victorian times, about 25 years after the setting for my book.

And a cockerel was, until Victorian times, a young male chicken – under 12 months old. The Victorian English applied the junior bird term to all male chickens of any age, while the Puritan Americans reacted to the double entendre a 150 years earlier, and adopted the term rooster.

So I can keep my joke and remain historically accurate, though Alex’s pun would have had him banned from the dinner table if the more innocent ladies at the table had understood his double meaning.

Other writers have clearly faced the same challenge, and some clever person has responded with a timeline diagram for male anatomy terms, taken from Green’s Dictionary of Slang, by Jonathon Green.

I could go for man Thomas, though there are a number of other possibilities. Calling it a battering piece might break the mood of my love scene, don’t you think? And shaft of delight, while authentic, is rather too congratulatory. Tickle tail is funny, and gay instrument might be misunderstood by today’s readers.

Here, by the way, is the equivalent timeline diagram for female anatomy terms.

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3 thoughts on “Is that a rooster in your pocket… ?

  1. Pingback: Some like it hot |

  2. I’ve seen historically inaccurate terms being used in historical romances before. Works of Historical fiction as well are littered with inaccurate terms. I’m probably guilty of it too! But never intentionally….(except for the word sh*t. It wasn’t used in my period, but I went ahead and used it…I’m claiming artistic license!) it’s great though that you’re striving to get even the words used in intimate moments historically spot on. And I’m actually rather surprised by how much conversation is triggered by what term to use.

    • If I’m aware I’m taking licence, I’ll say so. For example, in the southwest of England, both men and women call women that they’re fond of ‘my lover’. The term denotes affection, and not something more scandalous. Hannah, who is the maid-of-all-work to my heroine’s family, comes from this part of the world and calls the girl child in her charge ‘my lovely’ – which is dialectally inaccurate, but less disturbing to the readers! Whenever I wrote ‘my lovely’, I heard my PRH’s dear Auntie Marge saying ‘my lov’rrr’, with the short ‘o’ of the word ‘hot’, and no space between the ‘v’ and the long rolling southwestern ‘r’.

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