WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Valentine

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Valentine

Guess what happens this week!

If you guessed Valentine’s Day, you’re only partially correct. I was shooting for the day after Valentine’s Day, when candy goes on sale for half-price or more. Now that’s something to celebrate, amiright?!

Anyway. On to the Word of the Week.

The observation of St. Valentine’s Day has its origins in the ancient Roman festival of Lupercalia, a pagan fertility festival. That celebration involved lots of naked men running around the city spanking women’s bottoms, which was thought to increase their fertility. Ahem.

And like all good pagan rites of yore, Christians swooped in and usurped the pagan’s place in the festivities; after the death of Christ, February 14th became a date associated with the martyring of three different saints, all coincidentally named Valentine (or Valentinus, in the Latin of the day).

Now, the first documented association of Valentine’s Day with romantic love came with the publication of Parlement of Foules by Geoffrey Chaucer in 1382:

Ye knowe wel how, Seynt Valentynes day,
By my statut and through my governaunce,
Ye come for to chese — and flee your way —
Your makes, as I prik yow with plesaunce.

History also reveals a Frenchman (but, of course!) holds the honor as first to send a Valentine, although under tragic circumstances. After his capture following the Battle of Agincourt, the duc D’Orléans wrote a missive to his wife from his cell in the Tower of London. He addressed her as “my sweet Valentine.”

Poem from Charles, duc D’Orléans, to his wife in 1415. Photo courtesy BBC; original document at the British Museum.

Shakespeare brought the concept of Valentines and Valentine’s Day to the masses when  he penned Ophelia’s mournful song for Hamlet (Hamlet, Act 4, Scene 5).

Tomorrow is Saint Valentine’s day,
All in the morning betime,
And I a maid at your window,
To be your Valentine.
Then up he rose, and donned his clothes,
And dupped the chamber door.
Let in the maid that out a maid
Never departed more.

The idea of sending notes specifically on Valentine’s Day took off in England, so much so that a how-to book was published in 1797, The Young Man’s Valentine Writer. The rampant popularity naturally meant the term would be adopted into the vernacular.

Hence this week’s timely slang term.

Valentine (noun)

The first woman seen by a man, or man seen by a woman, on St. Valentine’s day, the 14th of February, when it is said every bird chuses his mate for the ensuing year.

Early Valentines were personal and hand-made, specific to the tastes and feelings of the sender and recipient. Witness this lovely Puzzle Purse Valentine from 1816. The squares are numbered so that the message can be read in order as each section is opened. The final message or illustration takes the center spot. Who wouldn’t love to receive one of these?

Valentine Puzzle Purse, 14 February 1816. Image courtesy Nancy Rosin.


WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Beast With Two Backs

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.