Throwback Thursday: The Etymology of Cocksucker.
Cocksucker (’kawk – ’suhk – ur) n. A compound word referring generally to a person who engages in felatio. Vulgar; a term of disparagement used as an epithet to a person of disreputable character. cock (kawk) n. L. gallus a common household foul, male of the species. A male chicken or rooster. suck (suhk) v.t. L. sugere; OE sucan; OHG sugan. [I am going to quote from the OED exactly] “to draw (liquid, esp. milk from the breast) [sic] into the mouth by contracting the muscles of the lips, cheeks, and tongue, so as to produce a partial vacuum.” (vol 2, 3137).
The Oxford English Dictionary contains several pages devoted to the word cock and compound words related to it. In fact the entire discussion spans most of pages 556 through 579. It does not contain the word cocksucker. There are scholarly books that do trace the origins of vulgar words and expletives; I simply don’t have any of them. I have researched the word on several websites, most don’t do a very good job explaining the origin of the word or its various uses. Nor do many (if any) of the online sites explain why the same English word has different meanings and connotations in English as spoken in the UK and the version spoken in the US. In both the US and the UK, the word ‘cock’ can be used to refer to both a male chicken and to the penis. However, in the UK one is more likely to use the expression ‘cock up’ for a failure; Americans, by contrast, are more likely to say ‘fuck up’ to express the same idea. “Cocksucker” in the US is an expression of extreme derision—while those in the UK are ambivalent about the word and its use.
I suggest that part of the difference has to do with livestock and game birds. The storied history of the etymology of the word ‘cock’ begins with the Latin gallus—the male of the domestic chicken. There is an earlier derivation from a PIE (Proto-Indo-European) root that refers to the same bird. Teutonic versions include kukko, keukino (an actual chicken) kuek and kuk; there are of course, Goth equivalents. Cognates in several languages are in brief: Old English cocc, coc, kok; and Old Norse kokkr; but most of these are eclipsed by the Gallic/Latin: coccus. (Gaul included some of what is now France and some of what is now Germany, depending on whom one asks.)
In any case, the sexual association with some form of this name for a male chicken, doesn’t seem to arrive in any language until probably the early 18th Century. Although there are instances cited from 1549, for example, where the word ‘cocky’ was used to mean ‘lecherous’. As for the activities associated with cocks, those too have nothing to with sex and more to do with poultry, in spite of what they sound like: ‘cock throwing’, ‘cock thrashing’, and ‘cock whipping’—to name only a few.
- this is part of our ongoing etymology series, written by @kwknox for The Prose Blog. Want to see more? Check out blog.theprose.com/blog. To read the blog version complete with kick-ass images, check the link in the comments.