Naughty by nomenclature

Here’s a challenge: thumb through any climbing guide and try to find to an area devoid of vulgar names. Randomly flipping pages, I come across Shmegma Garden, Split Beaver, and Spank The Monkey.

Erudition isn’t exactly rare among climbers. Plenty of climbers are plenty smart, though they often come up short on wit and imagination when dubbing new lines. It is possible to combine coarse and clever, as my favorite marquee at Seattle’s Lusty Lady attests to: Veni, Vidi, Veni.

Latin, in fact, is the perfect language to express vulgarity for its richness and precision in private matters, or perhaps, matters of the privates. English and other vernaculars, by comparison, are poor in provocative predicates. Look back to Catullus whose most famous epigram, XVI,  demonstrates a lyrical obscenity unmatched by Eminem, NWA or Lil Wayne. The first verse, in classic hendecasyllabic meter, Pedicabo ego vos et irrumabo, is the filthiest line still studied by classics scholars.

Allow me to explicate the expletives. Pedicare and irrumare are simple, first conjugation, transitive verbs meaning “to sodomize” and “ to insert one’s penis into a fellator’s mouth” respectively. Thus, Catullus’ first line translates colloquially into “I’ll fuck you up the ass and face fuck you.” Much of the lyricism seems lost in translation. The poet, accused by his contemporaries of being effeminate for his “soft” verses, launches indelicate invective their way. Catullus was a Golden Age gangsta rapper nonpareil.

There is no transitive verb equivalent or cognate in English for irrumare. Nope, no simple verb with the precise meaning “to face fuck.” Only the giver can express the act with a transitive verb, i.e. I blew him, while the receiver must resort to the passive voice, i.e. I was blown, or the more lumbering construction: I got a blow job. Latin solves this niggling problem, and even a beginning Latin student can conjugate it!

Climbs featuring twin crack systems beg for a classically inspired name such as Pedicabo Irrumabo. Let not Latin be the exclusive province of jurisprudence and scientific taxonomy. Climbers take note.


7 responses to “Naughty by nomenclature

  1. Too funny, Nancy. Glad to see you are putting that liberal arts education to see. Who says studying Latin, never mind Greek, can’t be fun!

    • Glad to see we have several Latin fans in this part of the blogosphere! Dan, the scruffy Classics grad student who taught Latin 101, used this poem to introduce the future tense for first conjugation.

  2. I love the explication of the Latin texts of Catullus! 46 credits into a doctoral program in Classical Languages, I never encountered that poem in any syllabus (not surprised); although I did assign a Catullus poem to students that stretched their assumptions about ancient literature. Finding contemporary relevance of Latin literature by its application to climbing nomenclature is a great example of reflective practice! Former classicist took note.

    • This Catullus poem was omitted from the Loeb series, then redacted and bawdlerized when subsequently published. There’s actually a clever argument and a funny pun on “molliculi” central to this otherwise raw piece. The Yeats poem entitled The Scholars has a line to the effect of “if they only knew the real Catullus.”

  3. And a roaring Dominus vobiscum to you my dear. Finally a use for that Catholic school choir girl education.

  4. Lovely explanation of the expletives Nancy! I just reread this and forwarded to my friend Jim, who is a high school Latin teacher at a Catholic school. His students are always pointing out what a “cunning linguist” he is!

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