These days I am reading for my comprehensive examinations and almost daily I come across something that makes me silently chant the refrain: There is nothing new under the sun. Well yesterday’s discovery was a real head scratcher and one that might cause some blushing for those with tender ears and modest tongues. So for those whose eyes cannot bear the sight of things unsightly I forewarn you: stop reading.
For the titillated: read on.
Sometimes you hear slang and you can sense that it is neological or you have a vague memory of a time when you are pretty sure that you did not hear it. Like, da bomb, boo-yeah, or fo’ shizzle. Well there is a certain slang phrase that has sounded new to me the few (rather unpleasant) times that I have heard it said and a quick check of the OED and Urban Dictionary confirmed its recent coinage and heyday (20th century, especially the last few decades). Well you can imagine my surprise when I read this very slang in a text composed sometime in the late 1st or very early 2nd century CE. IN GREEK! Yeah, that’s right, the exact slang in highfalutin Attic Greek (Plutarch, Stoic Self-Contradictions). For you Greek nerds, the uppity LSJ doesn’t even deign to offer a definition for the phrase although one hardly needs to be given. I read the sentence and then I read it again to make sure I wasn’t Freuding the thing up and it was right there to behold.
The word? ἀποτρίβεσθαι in its masculine singular accusative present middle participial form ἀποτριβόμενον. And it is taking this as its direct object: τὸ αἰδοῖον. Yeah, you read that correctly. Hard to believe isn’t it? I am still dumbfounded. I wonder how many school-boys tittered or turned red over this passage as they read it at boarding schools and prep academies during that briefest window of time when rich kids still learned Greek and the English version of the slang had gained sufficient currency to be commonly used by teenagers. I can only imagine the reaction to this line of lines: τὸν Διογένη τὸ αἰδοῖον ἀποτριβόμενον ἐν φανερῷ. Holy smokes.
Διογένη=Diogenes (the famous Cynic philosopher)
τὸ αἰδοῖον=his package
ἐν φανερῷ=in the open
Diogenes was rubbing [one] off. Publicly.
You can’t make this stuff up.