WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Beast With Two Backs

Please pardon me this week while I am becoming extremely vulgar, albeit in a very roundabout and literary way.

Working though my mountainous TBR pile this past weekend, I read A Dangerous Love (Swanlea Spinsters Book 1) by Sabrina Jeffries. William Shakespeare plays a prominent role in the witty and spirited interactions between the hero and heroine of this story. If you haven’t read it – do!

By the end of the book, I had the inspiration for the next Word of the Week.

     His eyes slid shut and a dark flush rose on his face. “You’ll find…the plays have a whole new…meaning once you know of such things.”
     “Oh? For example?”
     He frowned, obviously having difficulty thinking. “Remember Petruchio and Katherina? He talks about having…his tongue in her tail? And being a…’combless cock’ if she…will be his hen’?”
     She released him abruptly. “What! That’s what that means? I never dreamed–“
     “Shakespeare isn’t…the least…respectable, my sweet. You chose your…favorite author well.”

Shakespeare Gallery folio at The Annex Galleries. "Othello, Act V, Scene II" as engraved by W. Leney, after a painting by J. Graham. J. & J. Boydell Publishers.

Shakespeare Gallery folio at The Annex Galleries. “Othello, Act V, Scene II” as engraved by W. Leney, after a painting by J. Graham. J. & J. Boydell Publishers.

Beast With Two Backs (noun)

A man and a woman in the act of copulation.

The concept was first documented in the work The Life of Gargantua and Pantagruel by François Rabelais in 1532, and in French; it was translated into English by Thomas Urquhart around 1693.

“In the vigour of his age he married Gargamelle, daughter to the King of the Parpaillons, a jolly pug, and well-mouthed wench. These two did oftentimes do the two-backed beast together, joyfully rubbing and frotting their bacon ‘gainst one another.”

And some think coarse and crass language is a modern occurrence. Methinks this little poetic passage might have also given rise to the decidedly modern phrase “makin’ bacon,” but that’s a post for another author.

William Shakespeare coined the actual phrase, a beast with two backs, in his play Othello, in 1604. It appears in Act 1, Scene 1, and is delivered by perhaps the best villain ever put on paper. Iago is as he ever was, right from the start.

Brabantio: What profane wretch are thou?

Iago: I am one, sir, that comes to tell you your daughter and the Moor are now making the beast with two backs.

Brabantio: Thou art a villain.

Iago: You are — a senator.

Now that is a brazen thing to say to the father of the so-called beast!

On a barely related note, one of the most entertaining reviewers of literature can be found on YouTube, and he just so happens to have tackled Othello. Please be advised there is a bit of language…and plenty of modern slang.

All definitions and/or examples taken from 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue and The Phrase Finder.

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