June 10, 2013

Case File #013.06.10: GROIN

While there is no consensus among etymologists and lexicographers about the ultimate source of the word groin, most do agree that it first came into use circa 1590. The dominant theory regarding the word's beginnings is that it was formed by combining grynde (the Middle English word for the pubic area) and loin (as in flank, not pubis), an idea that seems to be supported by Shakespeare's lengthy narrative poem Venus and Adonis, first published in 1593, in which the Bard uses groin as a double entendre that is suggestive of both Adonis's flank region and his sexuality. Though the architectural sense of the word—that is, “the curved edge formed at the intersection of two vaults”—is semantically related to the anatomical sense, it didn't come into use until the early eighteenth century. And the sense in which groin means “a jetty or similar structure used to protect a beach against erosion” is a different etymological beast altogether. First appearing around 1600, it was derived from the Old French word groign, meaning “snout,” with the likely intention of alluding to the visual similarity between jetties and the longish noses of swine.

©2013 Michael R. Gates

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