Sunday, November 26, 2006

Cuckholds in Austin

Ah the wonderful things I am reminded of when watching JAG. I just finished watching three episodes from season 1, and I must admit that I do find the character of Lt. JG. Meg Austin to be much better than than the early seasons of Mac. Anyway, I was reminded about what the hook'em horns hand sign means in Europe. How I had let this slip my mind is beyond me? It means that one is a cuckhold.


"Cuckold" is derived from the Old French for the Cuckoo bird, "Cocu" with the pejorative suffix -ald. The earliest written use of the Middle English derivation, “cokewold” occurs in 1250. The females of certain varieties of Cuckoo lay their eggs in other bird’s nests, freeing themselves from the need to nurture the eggs to hatching. In middle age Europe, the law, custom, and the church all defined married women as a category of property held by her husband. Although Christian marriage vows strictly enjoined sexual exclusivity in a marriage for both partners, custom and doctrine rarely enforced it on the husband. A married woman who was unfaithful to her vows made a “cuckoo” of the husband who unknowingly provided her, and potentially her illegitimate offspring, with shelter and protection as a tricked bird does to the cuckoo’s eggs.
A nuance of the word often overlooked in contemporary usage is that it refers to a man who, like the bird warming the cuckoo’s eggs, is unaware of his victimization. A man who knows and acquiesced, in his wife’s taking of another lover is called a “wittol,” itself a derivation from the Middle English for “willing (as in knowing) cuckold.” In recent years the word “cuckold,” and its 1589 verb form “cuckolding” have been used to describe various forms of “open” or non-monogamous marriage arrangements that include an element of sado-masochism. “Wittol,” which more exactly describes the males in these situations, has become increasingly rare, although it appears in American and English literature as recently as 1950s.


A currently popular slang extension of the definition of cuckold expands it from married men to any male in a dating or domestic relationship with a woman in which he remains exclusive and she does not. This is the result of the jocular extension of the word "married" to describe paired-up couples in general rather than just those who have official legal sanction. This new usage may also reflect the paucity of established words that describe the variety of alternative sexual and romantic arrangements that have proliferated in recent years.


Cuckolds are sometimes written of as "wearing the horns of a cuckold" or just "wearing the horns". This refers to a tradition claiming that in villages of unknown European location, the community would gather to collectively humiliate a man whose wife gives birth to a child recognizably not his own. According to this legend, a parade is held in which the hapless husband is forced to wear antlers on his head as a symbol of his wife’s infidelity. Whether this actually happened or not is irrelevant to the phrase, which survived.

Ca. 1815 French satire on cuckoldry, which shows both men and women wearing horns
The French equivalent of "wearing horns" is "porter des cornes" and is used by Molière to describe someone whose husband has been unfaithful. Moliere's L'École des Femmes (1662) is the story of a man who mocks cuckolds and becomes one at the end. In Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales (c.1372-77), the Miller's Tale is a story that humorously examines the life of a cuckold. (It is a personal favorite of mine in that collection of short stories).


In Russia, Italy, Germany, Portugal, Brazil and Spanish-speaking countries, "horns" are a metaphor for suffering the infidelity of a partner, not limited to husbands in modern usage. However, the use of the term dates from the Roman empire, since legionaries returning from the war were given horns as a triumph or prize. So, the use of the term is a mockery of the husband, victorious in the battlefield, but defeated in his own bed. The gesture of the horned hand can be used to insult the cuckold; the Italian translation, cornuto literally means horned (This sometimes causes confusion in Italians who are learning English and encounter the word horny). The Spanish word for a consenting cuckold, cabrón, has such an offensive nuance that it is a taboo word rarely used with its original meaning, "he-goat". However, according to the tone and the relation to the addressed, it can be even laudatory.


So keep throwing up horns oh you folks in Austin and I'll keep this in mind and laughing my ass off at you bunch of cuckholds.

2 comments:

Alan said...

You got all that from an episode of JAG? I knew I liked that show for a reason!

I'm diggin' the new layout, by the way...or should I say, the old layout? ;-)

Ed said...

Yes, it was a running thing through an episode of JAG, so I just verified the facts.

Yeah, it was time for a change and this was the only new beta layout I liked.