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Etymologies and attestation of μουνί
OK, let’s draw this talk of μουνίν to some sort of close. I’ll present the first attestations of the word, as given in Trapp’s and Kriaras’ dictionary; and then I’ll reproduce Moutsos’ presentation of the various proposed etymologies, with a few of my comments.
The attestations are given with date of authorship, followed by date of earliest manuscript. The manuscript date matters because, as you’ll have already seen from TAK’s comments in previous threads, you can’t trust mediaeval scribes not to interfere with the language of what they’re copying.
- John Tzetzes, Theogony (12th century/ca. 1400)
οὐκ αἰσχύνεσαι, αὐθέντριά μου, νὰ γαμῇ τὸ μουνίν σου παπᾶς;
Aren’t you ashamed, my lady, to have a priest fuck your cunt?
The reading is preserved only in one manuscript, ca. 1400 (“turn of 14th century”). There is a possibility that the manuscript scribe has introduced this, pejorating whatever Tzetzes originally had written. The other manuscript preserving the passage, from the 15th century, clearly saw something worth censoring in the original, to have left the second half of the verse out. But given that it also censored the previous verse, mentioning a priest as lover, we can’t be sure what it censored was a translation like “fuck your cunt”, or something closer to the Proto-Ossetian’s “have a love affair”.
- Entertaining Tale of Quadrupeds 467 (ca. 1364/15th century)
διὰ νὰ σηκώνῃς τὴν οὐράν, νὰ δείχνῃς τὸ μουνίν σου
(Sheep to Goat): You’re here to lift your tail and show your cunt off!
- Miklosich & Müller, Acta et Diplomata Graeca Medii Aevi, Vol. II p. 53: Church synod condemnation of Constantine Cabasilas (24 August, 1383)
τέταρτον· ὅτι ἐβάπτιζε ποτὲ παιδίον, ἵστατο δὲ ἐκεῖσε καὶ γυνή· ἔχρισεν οὖν τὸ βρέφος τῷ ἀγίῳ μύρῳ, εἷτα λέγει πρὸς τὴν γυναῖκα· φέρε μοι τὸ μουνίν σου ἐνταῦθα, ἵνα χρίσω αὐτὸ, καὶ οὐ συγκάπτῃ
Fourthly: that he was christening a child once, and there was a woman standing there too; so he anointed the infant with holy myrrh, and then said to the woman, “bring me your cunt here, for me to anoint it; it won’t swallow it up.”
I don’t quite understand what exactly συγκάπτῃ means here, and I’m not sure I want to. Yes, he was excommunicated. Legal processes, such as this, are usually boring, but at times can give invaluable linguistic evidence. Even though in this case the grammar has clearly been antiquated, the vocabulary has not.
- Mass of the Beardless Man (ca. 1500/1515~1519) (Β 165, Α 499)
γραίας πορδὴ μαστίχα σου, γαδάρας μουνὶ πουγγί σου
an old woman’s fart is your mastic, a donkey’s cunt is your purse
The Mass is a relentlessly scatological parody; as the previous quote shows, not all churchmen were saintly, then any more than now. It was printed in 1553, but the two manuscript versions are if anything even filthier—as is shown here.
- Mass of the Beardless Man (ca. 1500/1515~1519) (Α 375)
Μαγαρίζομέν σε, κὺρ Φασούλη σπανέ, καὶ ὑβρίζω τὴν ὡραίαν πατσάδαν σου ὡς ἀντίτυπον γαδάρας <τὸ> μουνίν.
We pollute thee, Sir Bean Beardless, and I curse thy pretty beard as a copy of a donkey’s cunt.
- Glossae Graecobarbarae (end of 15th century/1614) [cited in Meursius]
τῆς γυναικὸς τὸ αἰδοῖον, ὅπερ καλοῦσι μουνὴν.
The woman’s pudendum, which they call μουνί.
The Glossae Graecobarbarae have survived only in citations by the lexicographers Meursius and DuCange; they’ve been claimed to originate in Cyprus, at the end of the 15th century. (Beaudouin, Mondry 1884. Dialecte chypriote. pp. 109-131 cites the glosses and compares them to Modern Cypriot.)
- Stefano de Sabio, Corona Pretiosa (1527) [cited in Meursius]
μουνὴ. Cunnus. αἰδοῖον γυναικὸς.
μουνί. Cunt. “(Ancient Greek) woman’s pudendum.”
The Corona Pretiosa was published by Stefano de Sabio in 1527, with a reprint in 1543; it’s a glossary that translates Modern Greek into Latin, Ancient Greek and (apparently) Italian. I’d like to register my astonishment that this is the first time I’ve heard of it. I’d also like to register my astonishment that nowadays I can *expect* a 1527 book to be digitised and online. It isn’t, but all the other lexica are.
- Johannes Meursius: Glossarium Graeco-barbarum (1614)
Μουνή. Membrum muliebre. [cites definitions from Corona Pretiosa and Glossae Graecobarbarae]
Μουνί: Female member.
Little gripe to Kriaras’ dictionary: if they’re going to cite words as being cited in Meursius, DuCange, Vlachos and Somavera, they really should also have mentioned De Sabio and the Glossae: they push the date back a lot.
- Alessio da Somavera (Alexis de Sommevoire), Tesoro della lingua greca-volgare ed italiana (1709)
Μοῦνα, ἡ. μαϊμοῦ μὲ τῆν οὐράν, ἡ. (ζῶον) Mona, gatto fariano. (animale) // Μουνάρα, ἡ. Natura granda di donna. // Μουνί. βλ. Σάρκα. // ἡ Σάρκα. Le parti vergognose, honestamente parlando.
Μοῦνα, ἡ. Monkey with a tail (animal). // Μουνάρα, ἡ. Large feminine organ. // Μουνί. See Σάρκα “flesh”. // Σάρκα. The embarrassing parts, to speak bluntly.
Somavera is more hesitant than previous lexicographers, but he does note the augmentative μουνάρα. He also shows that the Venetian monna “monkey”, which I mentioned confused matters in Venetian, had also entered Greek at the time.
Now to the etymologies. None of them are straightforward phonologically: there is no obvious Ancient word starting in /mon/ or /mun/, which could account for it.
A friend of mine said he always assumed it was derived from μόνος “only, unique” (as in mono- in English), because there’s only one of them. That’s in contrast to testicles, presumably, but it doesn’t exactly distinguish vaginas from penises though.
No, I’m not going further with that proposal.
Faced with this difficulty, Hatzidakis arrived at the ingenious (too ingenious) parallel of /evnuxos/ “eunuch” > /munuxos/. Each of the steps posited for that transition has precedent in Greek:
- evˈnuxos, through regular phonetic change
- *ˈvnuxos, through aphaeresis
- ˈmnuxos, through assimilation
- muˈnuxos, through epenthesis
This allowed people to look for etymologies of μουνίν in something like *βνίν. I admit to some residual scepticism; as I said, the epenthetic /u/ in /munuxos/ could be copying the latter /u/, which wouldn’t apply to /vnin/; and neither /mn/ nor /vn/ is always broken up in Greek: /mnimori/ “memorial stone”, /keravnos/ “thunder”. So if we could find a less awkward etymology for μουνίν, we’d use it.
Like, say, Venetian mona, as I had at first leapt at. But as I’ve argued, the evidence from Italiot Greek is that the Venetian word probably does have a Greek origin after all, so it doesn’t help get rid of the problem.
So, let’s see who Moutsous reports has had a go. I’ve already mentioned the later etymologies:
- DuCange (1688): βουνή, from βουνός “hill, mound”. As in mons Veneris
- Moutsos cites Psichari and Rohlfs as rejecting it, and there’s no good reason for /vun/ to go to /mun/.
- Koraes (1835): μύλλον “lip”; cf. μυλλός “cake shaped like a vagina” (Athenaeus 14.647a), and μυλλάς “prostitute”.
- μυλλός and μυλλάς are derived from μύλλω “to fuck”; μύλλον apparently is unrelated, and there’s no obvious reason for /myl/ to go to /mun/, either.
- Hatzidakis (1892): εὐνή > *εὐνίον “bed” > *βνίν.
- It seems a bit stretched, although I did point out the parallel in Modern Greek with carriola “cradle with wheels” > καριόλα “bed” > “whore”. Hatzidakis knew it was stretched too, and didn’t want to rule out mona
- Filintas (1934): μνοῦς “down” > *μνίον
- Moutsos dismisses this; the proposal “drew no attention as being entirely hypothetical”. I’m not as sure: the form is semantically possible, and phononologically less indirect: we need only posit *mnin and not *vnin. The word did stick around long enough to show up in the Graeco-Latin glossaries as a gloss of pluma “feather”, both as μνοῦς and as the vernacular diminutive μνούδιον.
Moutsos’ proposal is that this is a nominalised infinitive of βινεῖν “to fuck”. We have several such fossil infintives in Modern Greek: φαγεῖν “to eat” > φαγί > φαΐ “food”, πιεῖν “to drink” > πιεί “drink” (dialectal); φιλεῖν “to love” > φιλί “kiss”. Moutsos adds γαμήσειν “to get married > to fuck” > γαμήσι “fucking”, parallel to λύσειν “to untie” > λύσι “untying” (dialectal); that I’m not as convinced of.
- On a scale of more to less phonological plausibility—intermediate steps postulated: we have (1) μνοῦς > *μνίον (2 steps); (2) βινεῖν (3 steps); (3) εὐνή > *εὐνίον (4 steps).
- On a scale of more to less semantic plausibility, we have (1) βινεῖν; (2) μνοῦς > *μνίον; (3) εὐνή > *εὐνίον.
- On a scale of morphological plausibility, we have (1) βινεῖν; (2) μνοῦς > *μνίον; (3) εὐνή > *εὐνίον. βινεῖν uses a nominalised infinitive, which is attested as a process, but rare. The dimunitives μνίον and εὐνίον are both unattested, and -ίον did stop being a productive suffix sometime in Early Middle Greek. At least μνούδιον shows the word stuck around in the vernacular for a while (the Graeco-Latin glossaries admit colloquial words); I see no evidence that εὐνή made it to the Koine.
On balance, all three have problems, but “bed” has the most problems; and I guess “fuck” has the least (though not by as much as Moutsos thinks).
The other evidence that Moutsos gives is:
- βινέω seems to have survived into Proto-Pontic: βιντώ “to be in a rut” (> βινητιῶ), βίντος “gadfly”.
- Circumstantial influence of a nominalised τὸ βινεῖν in Alexis, cited in Plutarch:
τὰς ἡδονὰς δεῖ συλλέγειν τὸν σώφρονα.
τρεῖς δ’ εἰσὶν αἵ γε τὴν δύναμιν κεκτημέναι
τὴν ὡς ἀληθῶς συντελοῦσαν τῷ βίῳ,
τὸ φαγεῖν τὸ πιεῖν τὸ τῆς Ἀφροδίτης τυγχάνειν·
τὰ δ’ ἄλλα προσθήκας ἅπαντα χρὴ καλεῖν
The wise man knows what of all things is best,
Whilst choosing pleasure he slights all the rest.
He thinks life’s joys complete in these three sorts,
To drink and eat, and follow wanton sports;
And what besides seems to pretend to pleasure,
If it betide him, counts it over measure (Alexis fr. 271 Kock; Plutarch: Moralia 21e)
Bless those old-school translators for using verse. Damn clever: “to be lucky with Venus” (Ἀφροδίτης τυγχάνειν) as a euphemism for βινεῖν, which happens to rhyme with φαγεῖν and πιεῖν “to eat and drink”—two infinitives that happen to have survived as nouns in Modern Greek. I don’t think this is overwhelming evidence that τὸ βινεῖν was a commonplace colloquial expression, let alone an expression that turned into “cunt”; but it’s cute anyway.
- μουνίν and associated compounds are common in Early Modern Greek. True, but they’re mostly in the Mass of the Beardless Man (μουνιοτζακάτος, καβουριομουνομέτωπος, σκατόμουνος), which is reasonably late, and doesn’t prove anything about etymology.
Moutsos also derives Italiot munno (and Erice Sicilian monnu) from *μοῦνος, explained as an augmentative of μουνί attested in Modern Greek. The augmentative I know is the one Somavera recorded, μουνάρα; but slang.gr confirms the existence of μούνος, adding the improvised proverb κάλλιο μούνος και στο χέρι παρά κώλος και καρτέρι, “A bush in the hand is worth two arses in the bush”. I think.) Now, it’s true that switching genders can act as an augmentative, although that’s because diminutives old and new are neuter, so this can be viewed as a back-formation. But a masculine could also be just an archaism.
To explain: Ancient masculine ποῦς, ποδός “foot” survives in Modern Greek through the diminutive neuter πόδιον > πόδι. The masculine πόδας is also found, and is how ποῦς, ποδός would have developed on its own (switching third to first declension). πόδας is normally interpreted as an augmentative: if people remember that a masculine was bigger than a neuter, and the neuter is now the normal term, then the masculine must be an augmentative of the neuter.
But πόδας is (I think!) the normal Cretan term for “foot”, which suggests its an independent survival, unaffected by πόδιον. And that’s a problem with munno. μουνίν looks, at first glance, like a diminutive of *μοῦνος. We know of no Ancient noun like μοῦνος. (We do have the Ionic μοῦνος “only, unique”, corresponding to μόνος in the rest of Greek; but we’ve already rejected that track.) It’s because we don’t have an Ancient *μοῦνος that we’ve ended up looking at *vnin forms.
But Bova is evidence that there was a *μοῦνος form at some stage after all. And Moutsos’ proposal has no room for a *μοῦνος. (Neither does Hatzidakis’; Filintas’ does only with accent shift.) Bova could be doing the same gender-switch as Modern Greek, forming a local augmentative. But it really does look more like an original unattested Ancient form, of which μουνίν is the derived form.
But until someone comes up with an Ancient form that can explain *μοῦνος, Moutsos’ βινεῖν is the best proposal on the table. Not overwhelmingly good or unproblematic; but that’s the thing with etymology. And scholarship. Sometimes, we only have weak hypotheses. As the great Greek humourist (and amateur student of mythology) Nikos Tsiforos once put it, “Scholars argue when they don’t know what’s going on. When they do know what’s going on, they just say ‘1 + 1 = 2’, and they’re done.”